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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

Friday, April 19, 2019

Final Defendant Convicted in Gruesome MS-13 Murder

HOUSTON – A 23-year-old El Salvadorian citizen has pleaded guilty for his role in a horrific gang slaying, admitting he and two others murdered a teenager in the Sam Houston National Forest, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Jose Leonel Bonilla Romero aka Jose Tupapa, who resided in Houston, entered a plea of guilty to aiding and abetting others with the murder of a 16-year-old male victim on Sept. 22, 2013. The others - Cristian Alexander Zamora aka Christian Zamora, Alex or Pollo, 28, and Ricardo Leonel Campos Lara aka La Muerte, 23, both also of El Salvador, who resided in Huntsville and Houston, respectively -  previously pleaded guilty and are currently serving their federal prison sentences.

Romero, Zamora and Lara lured the juvenile victim to Sam Houston National Forest where the three of them attacked him with bats and machetes. 

At the hearing today, the court heard that when officers found the mutilated body of the juvenile victim, they observed gaping wounds on his knees and ankles with his head nearly severed from his body. The victim’s family was in court today and wept as they heard the details of the killing. U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein asked Romero “you’re intent at the time was to kill him?” to which Romer0 replied “yes.”

The investigation led police to Zamora who ultimately confessed his role in the crime, implicating Romero and Lara. All three defendants admitted to being members of the transnational MS-13 gang. They explained that a gang leader had ordered them to kill the victim, because he had supposedly cooperated with police in El Salvador, leading to the arrests of several MS-13 gang members. 

The juvenile victim was intoxicated when they took him to the federal land in Huntsville. Romero admitted that once there, he struck the victim first with a baseball bat in the back of the head before the others butchered the victim’s body with machetes. 

The medical examiner noted that the victim suffered deep cutting and chopping wounds, some all the way to the spinal cord with others causing partial decapitation.

Judge Werlein accepted the plea today and has set sentencing for June 21, 2019. At that time, Romero faces up to life in prison. Romero has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.

Judge Werlein sentenced Zamora and Lara in 2016, both of whom received 420-month prison terms. They were further ordered to pay $13,092.42 in restitution. In handing down those sentences, the court noted the “willful and deliberate crime,” commenting that the murder was particularly brutal and its heinous, gruesome and savage nature.

The FBI, Houston Police Department, Texas Rangers, Walker County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark E. Donnelly and Casey MacDonald are prosecuting the case.

Violent Crime
Updated April 19, 2019