September 7, 2008

Homicides increase, police maintain high clearance rate

By Sean Gaffney

NEAR DONNA - Eleazar Olivo laid wistfully in bed with a loaded hand gun close by when the stream of bullets started.

The 28-year-old grabbed the hand gun and returned fire during the middle of the night slaying Luis Daniel Garcia, a suspected member of the Tri City Bombers. Another man escaped in what investigators suspect was a gang-related assassination attempt.

Few homicides are so easily solved, but the killing of 34-year-old Garcia left few questions for investigators when they arrived at 700 block of Juanita Street close to 1 a.m. April 1, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Captain John Montemayor.

Olivo never faced charges for saving his own life. Authorities said it was justifiable homicide. The other shooter was never found.

While nationally about 60 percent of homicides are solved on average, according to statistics from the FBI's 2006 Uniform Crime Report, local departments are approaching a nearly 100 percent clearance rate.

McAllen has arrested suspects for each of their five homicides this year. Mission has one outstanding suspect and the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office has suspects named, but not all arrested, in every of their 17 murders but one.

For the sheriff's office, this is the deadliest year in recent memory. In 2006, the office investigated 16 homicides and there were 14 reports in 2007.


Officials attribute the high clearance rates to killers not covering their tracks, making them easily identifiable.

"I could say it's because we got the best investigators in the state of Texas - I do feel very strongly about that (because) we do have some very focused and dedicated investigators," said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño. "I wish I could sit here and gloat. I have to be realistic about it."

Still some high-profile cases remain unsolved and continue to confound investigators. With some of the cases the suspects have fled to Mexico and then there are others like the June 7 killing of 84-year-old Elena Garza Ayala of Edinburg.

Ayala was driving along Monte Cristo Road near the intersection with North Depot Road when a single bullet police believe was fired from a dark-colored Jeep Grand Cherokee emerged through her passenger door, passed through her torso and lodged itself inside the vehicle, authorities said.

"This is one case that's really bothered me," Trevino said. "We've got some very strong leads on who the shooters are. What the motive was and the type of weapon used."


Investigators suspect Josue Gonzalez Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Reynosa-based construction worker, killed Ruben Varela in February at a model home in Mission for $8,000 dollars. The victim's brother Jose Juan Varela, 38, is accused of paying the shooter to kill his brother. A second middle man and Varela have been charged with capital murder. Rodriguez fled to Mexico, authorities said.

"We are working together with (Mexican authorities) in making an effort to see what we can do on actually pinpointing him and having Mexican officials make an arrest," said Lt. Martin Garza, a Mission police spokesman.

Last week, a suspect wanted in another slaying in the Mission area fled to Mexico, Sheriff Treviño said. A camera caught Froilan Casares, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, walking across the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge early Monday morning, hours after he was suspected of killing Adin Jaret Rodriguez, a Mexican national in his early 20s, on the property of State Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview.

"We are a border town and that will always be an obstacle," Garza said of suspects fleeing across the border. But, he added, cooperation among local, state, federal and Mexican authorities has improved making apprehension and extradition much more likely.


Weslaco police have had two homicides this year and one arrest. They suspect Francisco Javier Gonzalez-Rivera fled to Mexico after allegedly killing Weslaco teacher Eduardo Cruz at his home on July 15.

Police continue to search for Jose Antonio Sanchez Zapata, 22, who is wanted for the murder of 14-year-old Roberto Castro Jr. at a Murphy USA on August 23. They also search for a person of interest they identify as Enrique, said Weslaco Police spokesman David Molina.

Victor Hugo Olivares, 18, has already been charged with capital murder in connection to the killing.

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