Five Charged In Shooting Death Of A Bowling Green Resident During Robbery Of La Placita Market
Defendants tied to a string of at least twelve violent robberies occurring at small stores across Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – United States Attorney Russell M. Coleman today announced the arrest of five co-defendants charged in the shooting death of a Bowling Green resident, while robbing the La Placita market, located in Warren County, Kentucky. The Bowling Green homicide is tied to a string of at least twelve violent robberies occurring at small, privately owned stores across Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
All were charged in a Criminal Complaint, unsealed yesterday, October 25, 2017, following the initial appearance of defendants Lillian Duron and Estrellita Soto, before United States Magistrate Judge H. Brent Brennenstuhl in Bowling Green. Defendant Johnny Alexander Relles-Martinez made his initial appearance on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 from the Leavenworth, Kansas, Detention Center. Defendants Jorge Santos Caballero-Melgar and Jose Adan Mejia Varela are currently in the custody of the Commonwealth of Virginia and are scheduled for their initial appearance on the federal charges on November 29, 2017 in Bowling Green.
“This outcome was due to plain old good police work, by Bowling Green’s Finest, in concert with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a host of other police agencies in other states” stated U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman. “We are all safer when local and federal law enforcement work together to tackle violent crimes like this dangerous string of multi-state robberies.”
According to the Criminal Complaint, on March 17, 2017, at 2:58 pm, two armed men, Martinez and Varela entered La Placita, locked the door behind them, and demanded money from La Placita’s employees. La Placita is a locally owned Hispanic market, check cashing business, and InterCambio Express wire transfer service, located at 710 Morgantown Road in Bowling Green.
During the robbery, Jose Cruz arrived at the store to pick-up his minor children, who were locked inside. When Varela unlocked the door to walk toward a waiting car, Cruz entered the store, realized that a second gunman, Martinez, was robbing the store and began fighting him. Valera returned to the store and attempted to pistol whip Mr. Cruz. Video footage, 911 audio, and witnesses, including Mr. Cruz’s minor children, who were present during the shooting, confirm the second gunman, Martinez, shot Cruz during the fight. First responders transported Mr. Cruz to a local hospital where he subsequently died.
According to the Affidavit supporting the Criminal Complaint, defendant Melgar served as the lookout during the robbery. Defendant Duron is accused of making a wire transfer at La Placita just over an hour before the robbery. Surveillance video showed Duron and Soto inside and in the parking lot of La Placita just prior to the hold up and shooting. Further, according to the Affidavit, Soto told Melgar where the money was kept, inside the store, and alerted Melgar when customers had left and only two female clerks were left inside. The five defendants are believed to be connected to a string of at least twelve violent robberies between January 13, 2017 and September 2, 2017, across Kentucky Tennessee, and North Carolina.
The charge of interference with commerce by threats or violence, a Hobbs Act charge, carries a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison. The charge of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, causing death, carries a maximum punishment of death or a term of life in prison.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Weiser and is being investigated by the Bowling Green Police Department and the FBI with assistance from the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; Northampton County, VA Sheriff’s Office; Metro Nashville, TN Police Department; Rocky Mount, NC Police Department; Clayton, NC Police Department; Cary, NC Police Department; Henderson, NC Police Department; Snow Hill, NC Police Department; Chatham County, NC Sheriff’s Department; Department of Homeland Security; and United States Marshals.
The charge of a person by a Federal Criminal Complaint is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty