Murderer of Bureau of Land Management Firefighter Gets Life

Feb. 16, 2024
Firefighter John Brian Mananghaya Aguila's charred body was found in Los Angeles County in 2019.

Josh Cain

The Whittier Daily News, Calif.


Feb. 16—A La Verne man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Friday, Feb. 16, after he admitted to helping kill a firefighter from West Covina who went missing while on his way to work nearly five years ago.

Elijah Thomas Rouse, 23, with dreadlocks and wearing black glasses, clad in an Orange jail jumpsuit with chains around his waist and ankles, sat quietly as Pomona Superior Court Judge Mike Camacho said he would accept his plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid a trial and put Rouse behind bars for the rest of his life for his part in the killing of John Brian Mananghaya Aguila, 28.

Rouse was one of three men accused of participating in the killing of Aguila, whose body was dumped on a roadside and burned in the Upland foothills in August 2019.

Another suspect, Davone Smith, also agreed to plead guilty and will be sentenced on Feb. 21.

The third, Shaun Cardarelli, 41, of San Gabriel pleaded not guilty and is expected to face a jury trial later this month.

Camacho said he understood the plea agreement was "no consolation" to Aguila's grief-stricken family, which moments before had addressed the court expressing their fury at Rouse. But Camacho said a plea agreement in a murder case as brutal as this was a rarity.

"I understand this is not to your liking," Camacho said. "I understand your disappointment. But this is the most serious penalty the law allows. ... Mr. Rouse is certainly not being treated leniently."

Aguila, 28, worked part-time for the Bureau of Land Management as a firefighter. He was last seen leaving his home in West Covina on Aug. 22, 2019, to go to work in La Puente.

The next day, authorities responding to a fire spotted at Mountain and Euclid avenues at around 3:30 a.m. found a charred body among the flames.

On Aug. 24, they found Aguila's Honda Civic abandoned in San Dimas — inside the car's trunk were gloves and a large amount of blood.

Police later obtained surveillance-camera footage showing a man, who was not Aguila, parking the Civic and walking away.

The discoveries led West Covina police to an apartment in La Verne where they arrested three people inside. Neighbors said Rouse lived in the apartment with a roommate.

In his plea agreement, Rouse pleaded to one count each of murder and conspiracy to commit arson. He also agreed he used a knife to commit the murder.

Neither prosecutors nor police have outlined Rouse's exact role in the killing.

Typically, defendants who agree to plead guilty as part of complicated cases like Aguila's killing can be expected to testify against other defendants. But prosecutors did not say Friday whether Rouse would testify in Cardarelli's trial.


(c)2024 The Whittier Daily News, Calif.

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