Man sentenced in 'brutal killing' that left body dumped in Dakota County culvert

A decades-long sentence has been handed down in the deadly beating of a man whose body was found dumped in a culvert in rural Dakota County last spring.

Ivan Contreras-Sanchez, 41, of Minneapolis, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the killing, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday.

Arturo Morales-Ceras is facing a murder charge in the case while his girlfriend, Tomasa Martinez, are also charged with kidnapping. 

Brutal killing

According to the charges against Contreras-Sanchez, the investigation started when Mandujano's family visited the Minneapolis Police Fifth Precinct to report him missing on April 4.

The family told police they were told by people at a homeless camp that Mandujano had gotten into a fight with another man on March 27. During the fight, Mandujano was hit in the head with a shovel and killed, the family was told.

But it wasn't until weeks later that Mandujano's body was found dumped in a farming culvert. Prosecutors say Mandujano's hands were bound around his back and a nail was found in the back heel of his foot.

Using a geofence search warrant, which allows police to track devices that cross into certain areas, the charges state police were able to determine a device linked to Contreras-Sanchez was identified in the area Mandujano's body was found on March 29.

According to the complaint, the location history put the device at a Speedway gas station in Inver Grove Heights. Reviewing surveillance cameras from the gas station, officers learned two vehicles arrived at the gas station around 7:30 p.m. on March 29.

During the stop, one of the men from the vehicle had bought a Lipton Brisk fruit punch at the gas station. Police say an unopened bottle of Lipton Brisk fruit punch was found near Mandujano's body.

The charges state that police were able to backtrack Contreras-Sanchez's device to a residence on Irving Avenue North.

With the help of informants, police learned that the murder had occurred at a home near 36th and 4th in Minneapolis. In the home, after getting permission from the owner to search the residence, police found blood and some DNA, but not enough to match. According to the charges, an informant also told police they heard Contreras-Sanchez and another man had murdered Mandujano at that spot.

When confronted by police, officers say Contreras-Sanchez denied involvement in the beating but admitted to being involved in another fight with the victim weeks prior to Mandujano's murder.

But, despite initially denying involvement in Mandujano's killing, police say Contreras-Sanchez eventually admitted to driving the vehicle used to move Mandujano's body. Ultimately, police said Contreras-Sanchez admitted to witnessing the deadly attack, claiming other men had killed Mandujano.

Contreras-Sanchez made his first appearance on murder charges on Monday.  Morales-Ceras and Martinez are set to be in court Tuesday.

Victim was attacked because suspects believed he was a ‘snitch’ for the police

According to the set of charges against Morales-Ceras, Morales-Ceras admitted to police that he and Contreras-Sanchez forced Mandujano into his car and beat Mandujano because they thought he was working with police.

Police say Morales-Ceras told them they found Mandujano at a homeless encampment along 5th Avenue South at Lake Street and forced him to come to the home on 36th Street South.

At the home, according to the charges, Mandujano was taken to the basement where Contreras-Sanchez and Morales-Ceras, along with others, hit and kicked the victim on orders from Contreras-Sanchez.

Police say Morales-Ceras told them the men beat Mandujano and "interrogated him about working with the police and being a snitch. While this was happening, Defendant Morales-Ceras was holding a hammer and using it to intimidate [Mandujano]."

According to the charges, Morales-Ceras admitted to using the hammer to pound a roofing nail into the victim's heel.

Despite the beating, according to the charges, Morales-Ceras said Mandujano was still alive but was in "bad shape" and had trouble moving. The men wrapped him in plastic and put him in the back of Morales-Ceras' sedan, the complaint details.

At some point, while they were driving, police say Morales-Ceras told them Mandujano died.