WAXAHACHIE — Ellis County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson summed up the legal problems that developed over time after the murder of Henry Fabian Villatoro as a being “snakebit.” Issues in the case ranged from witnesses who feared for their safety to a lead Ellis County Sheriff’s Office Investigator being arrested.
These problems resulted in Irving residents Roberto Martinez-Lopez, Fredy Able Rodriguez and Abel Armando Martinez accepting a plea-bargain on Friday for a seven-year prison sentence on the charge of manslaughter. Victoria Alejandra Velasquez Navarrete, the remaining suspect and who resides in Irving, also expects her case to be disposed of Tuesday through a plea bargain.
Six people were originally charged after the murder, which resulted in Irving resident Rafael Morales-Perez accepted a seven-year sentence on the charge of murder on Jan. 25.
The sixth suspect, Inmer Obed Palma Garcia, had the murder charge dismissed against him on July 14, 2016. Following the dismal of the charge against Garcia, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took him into custody. Garcia has a murder charge pending against him in El Salvador.
“To clarify [the information] for your report, as well from our perspective, with a seven-year sentence it makes no difference between manslaughter and murder,” Wilson said. “They are both aggravated offenses, which means parole eligibility is calculated the same way for both murder and manslaughter. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony and murder is a first-degree felony. But because we are talking about a sentence that is less than 20 years — which is the maximum for a second-degree felony — it really does not make a difference to us with a seven-year sentence if it is a manslaughter or a murder.“
According to a Daily Light article published April 12, 2013, Ellis County Sheriff's Deputies were initially dispatched to the 600 block of Edmondson Road, in the rural Ellis County area of Forreston, after a motorist reported an unresponsive person lying in the roadway. Deputies arrived to find an unidentified deceased male subject shot multiple times. Officers transported the body to the Dallas County Medical Examiner's office and later identified as Henry Fabian Villatoro, 21, of Irving.
Investigators, who believe the offense was gang-related, determined that the plot to murder Villatoro began in Irving. The victim was then lured into a vehicle and transported to Ellis County where he was shot. Investigators also recovered a weapon.
“This case was 'snakebit' and that was all there is to it. I can run down the problems that we have had. First as been previously reported we had a detective from the Irving Police Department (Irving Police Officer Cesar Villanueva) who was a gang expert, he was closely involved in this investigation. He committed suicide,” Wilson said. “We had a sheriff’s investigator who was arrested on felony warrants. We had a civilian witness that was murdered. We had many other witnesses, and in fact, most of our civilian witnesses who were affiliated with this case were very reluctant in this case to testify out of fear for their safety. That even included family members of the victim.”
Wilson also stated in the 2013 article that the law enforcement officer charged with a felony is former Ellis County Sheriff's Lt. Philip Gray Slaughter II.
According to a Daily Light article from April 18, 2016, the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested Slaughter April 15 on several charges related to the alleged theft of firearms from the sheriff's office property room. A Grand Jury charged Slaughter with two counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, three counts of theft and one count of tampering with a governmental record.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Slaughter's charges are in connection with an alleged sale of firearms from the sheriff's office evidence room.
As for the murder, Wilson noted the case was delayed several times because it had so many moving parts.
“When you have six defendants they all have lawyers that all have conflicts that have to be worked around. There were logistical issues involved with translating statements and documents into Spanish and getting those properly certified,” Wilson said. “So again this is a perfect example that delay benefits the defendant. If we could have tried this case six months after the arrests, I believe the outcome could have been vastly different. Unfortunately, we were not able to make that happen. I am not happy with this outcome, but it is the best that we could get under the circumstances.”
Wilson said it was believed the suspects involved in this case were members of the street gang known as MS-13 from El Salvador.
The FBI website states that MS-13 perpetrate violence — from assaults to homicides, using firearms, machetes, or blunt objects — to intimidate rival gangs, law enforcement, and the general public.
“Members of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, who are mostly Salvadoran nationals or first generation Salvadoran-Americans, but also Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other Central and South American immigrants,” the FBI website states. “MS-13 operates in at least 42 states and the District of Columbia and has about 6,000-10,000 members nationwide.”
Wilson said the family is satisfied with the result and that the case was able to get settled without going to trial given the uncertainty connected with it.
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