Federal Jury Finds Francisco Melgar-Cabrera Guilty on Hobbs Act and Felony Murder Charges Arising From Armed Robbery of Two Albuquerque-Area Restaurants and the Murder of Stephanie Anderson in June 2009
Defendant Faces a Maximum Sentence of Life Imprisonment
ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., today returned a guilty verdict against Francisco Melgar-Cabrera, 31, on Hobbs Act robbery and felony murder charges stemming from the armed robberies of two Albuquerque-area restaurants and murder of Stephanie Anderson in June 2009.
The guilty verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, Special Agent in Charge Thomas G. Atteberry of the Phoenix Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Special Agent Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, and Chief Gordon Eden, Jr., of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
In announcing the guilty verdict, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said, “Although today’s verdict cannot restore the loss of Stephanie Anderson, I hope that it will bring a measure of comfort and closure to her family and friends.” The U.S. Attorney also commended the officers and prosecutors who devoted more than six years to bring a justice to Ms. Anderson’s family and the others who were victimized by Melgar-Cabrera and his three cohorts, all of whom now stand convicted. “In particular, I want to recognize Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis E. Valencia and ATF Special Agent Paul Jessen, both of whom were on the case from the inception of the investigation and delayed retirement plans until all defendants were convicted.”
“I am extremely proud of the work of this office and our law enforcement partners. I would like to recognize the investigative efforts of ATF Special Agents and especially the efforts of ATF Special Agent Paul Jessen, who for years doggedly pursued Melgar-Cabrera for his role in the 2009 murder of Stephanie Anderson. I hope today's verdict of guilt brings some peace to Stephanie’s family,” stated ATF Special Agent in Charge Thomas G Atteberry. “ATF is committed to working with our law enforcement partners – at home and around the world – to take violent criminals off the streets and bring them to justice.”
“Many professionals from a multitude of agencies worked long and hard to make this day possible. The tragic death of Stephanie Anderson demanded justice, and the FBI and its partners in this country and in El Salvador made sure justice was served,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee. “In addition to the FBI Special Agents and other staff involved in this case, I want to thank the FBI Legal Attaché in San Salvador, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI's Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Government of El Salvador, and the Albuquerque Police Department.”
“We hope this step brings a sense of closure and justice to Ms. Anderson’s family and all of those involved,” APD Chief Gorden Eden said. “Our goal in law enforcement is to pursue justice no matter how long it takes or how many hurdles we may face. I am thankful for all of our law enforcement partnerships and the positive impact we are able to have especially when dangerous criminals like Melgar-Cabrera face extended federal sentences.”
The long delay in bringing Melgar-Cabrera, a Salvadoran national, to trial was occasioned by his flight to El Salvador shortly after Ms. Anderson was murdered. He was arrested on Sept. 14, 2013, by Salvadoran law enforcement authorities, and was extradited to the United States on May 21, 2014. By that time, Melgar-Cabrera’s three co-defendants had entered guilty pleas and had been sentenced.
Melgar-Cabrera and two co-defendants Marvin Aguilar-Lopez and Pablo De Leon Ortiz, both Salvadoran nationals, were indicted in Oct. 2009, and charged with violating the Hobbs Act by robbing a business involved in interstate commerce, felony murder and firearms offenses. The charges arose from the armed robbery of a Denny’s Restaurant located at 1602 Coors Blvd. NW in Albuquerque on June 20, 2009, and the murder of Ms. Anderson, a cook at the restaurant.
In April 2010, the indictment was superseded to add Melgar-Cabrera’s brother, Jose Melgar-Cabrera, also a Salvadoran national, as a defendant. Jose Melgar-Cabrera was charged as an accessory after the fact for assisting Melgar-Cabrera’s flight to avoid apprehension. A second superseding indictment, filed in Oct. 2010, added four new robbery and firearms offenses against Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz that arose out of the armed robbery of a Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon located at 10019 Coors Blvd. NW in Albuquerque on June 13, 2009.
The trial of Melgar-Cabrera for the armed robbery of two businesses involved in interstate commerce and felony murder began on Aug. 25, 2015 and ended today when the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all three charges. During the trial, the jury learned that Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz robbed the Lone Star Steakhouse at gunpoint at 11:00 a.m. on June 13, 2009. Witnesses testified that they saw two masked men with firearms rush the restaurant’s general manager, who was on his way to deposit the prior day’s receipts, and push their guns into his stomach. One of the masked men took the money bag from the general manager and the other took money from the general manager’s wallet. A third man drove the two masked men away in a gold-colored car. The evidence revealed that Melgar-Cabrera was the man who drove the two masked men, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz, away from the Lone Star Steakhouse.
The evidence also established that on the morning of June 20, 2009, Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon-Ortiz, who were masked and armed, charged into the Denny’s Restaurant, brandished their weapons, and demanded that everyone get down on the floor. The men were in the Denny’s for a few minutes during which a frenzy of activity ensued including the following: a restaurant employee dropped a tray of beverages and Aguilar-Lopez slipped on the wet floor and fired his weapon; De Leon-Ortiz grabbed the manager, held a gun to his head, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t turn over the restaurant’s money; and Melgar-Cabrera threatened a waitress and demanded that she open the cash register. After Melgar-Cabrera and De Leon-Ortiz grabbed cash out of the register, the three men fled from the restaurant. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Anderson, who was struck by the bullet fired by Aguilar-Lopez, died of a gunshot wound.
About 20 minutes later, APD officers who were conducting surveillance in the area of the Denny’s restaurant as part of a robbery tactical plan followed Aguilar-Lopez as he drove to Melgar-Cabrera’s residence where they arrested him. The APD officers found evidence of the Denny’s robbery, including a revolver, a rifle, trays of rolled coins and Denny’s gift cards, in the car. De Leon-Ortiz was arrested by APD officers about 40 minutes after the robbery. Melgar-Cabrera, who were in his residence when Aguilar-Lopez was arrested, fled out the back door. Thereafter, Melgar-Cabrera fled to El Salvador with the aid of his brother.
Melgar-Cabrera has been in federal custody since he was extradited to the United States in May 2014 and remains detained pending a sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Melgar-Cabrera faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years on each of the two robbery charges and a statutory maximum penalty of life imprisonment on the felony murder charge.
Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz each entered guilty pleas to armed robbery and felony murder charges. Aguilar-Lopez was sentenced to 40 years in prison and De Leon Ortiz was sentenced to a 35-year term of imprisonment. They will be deported after completing their prison sentences. Jose Melgar-Cabrera pled guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 48 months in prison. After completing his prison sentence, Jose Melgar-Cabrera was deported to El Salvador.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque offices of ATF and FBI and APD, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Louis E. Valencia and Presiliano A. Torrez.