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Trial date nears for Senor Carlos murder defendants

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Murder defendants Jorge Pablo Gonzalez and Diego Villonueva will have pre-trial hearings on Nov. 22, in preparation for their scheduled December trials. Gonzalez and Villonueva face the death penalty for the Oct. 24, 2010 murder of Jesus Meza, a co-worker at Salem's Senor Carlos Restaurant. Photo by Richard Irby
On Tuesday, Nov. 22, two men charged with murder are scheduled for pre-trial hearings in Fulton Circuit Court, to discuss final details before their December trials.

Jorge Pablo Gonzalez, 42, and Diego Handelin Villonueva, 20, face the death penalty for allegedly murdering a co-worker, Jesus Cisneros Meza.

Meza's body was found on Oct. 25, 2010, in the back of his pickup truck, which was discovered off the road along Highway 9, south of Melbourne.

Within hours, Meza's identity was confirmed and, before the day was over, Gonzalez and Villonueva were in jail, accused of murdering Meza at the Senor Carlos Restaurant in Salem, where all three worked.

In interviews with police investigators, details emerged indicating Gonzalez, the restaurant manager, had hired Villonueva, a dish washer, to kill Meza for $200.

The alleged motive - Gonzalez did not like Meza and believed Meza, a part owner of the restaurant, "was attempting to cause him to lose his job."

During the nearly 13 months since the murder, surprisingly little has happened in court.

In February, Judge Tim Weaver expressed frustration that Gonzalez's attorney, Patrick Benca, was not attending court sessions.

"This has been pending since October," Weaver said. "He (Benca) needs to get with it. This is a capital murder case and he has not done much with it."

Benca responded in March by filing a stack of 46 motions, all at once.

In court, Benca indicated Gonzalez's trial date would have to be delayed because he was one of two attorneys preparing for the July trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who was charged with killing one man and wounding another outside of an Army recruiting center in Little Rock.

On Nov. 22, Benca will finally get a hearing on his March motion to suppress evidence in the case. Benca's motion seeks to "Suppress any and all illegally obtained evidence and any statement made by the defendant (Gonzalez)." According to Benca, Gonzalez "was subject to unlawful arrest." Benca claims there was no probable cause to arrest his client, evidence and statements were collected illegally and Gonzalez was taken into custody without a proper search warrant - all reasons to suppress evidence against his client.

A Judge's ruling to suppress could limit the prosecution's case at trial.

Another motion to suppress statements by Gonzalez's alleged accomplice or co-conspirator (Villonueva) may be aimed at speculation that Villonueva will accept a plea bargain and testify against Gonzalez.

Arkansas State Police Special Agent Jim Linkous and Carlos Aguilar, owner of Senor Carlos Restaurant, have been subpoenaed to testify at the suppression hearing.

Villonueva's case file shows his attorneys, Katherine Street and Christopher Nebbin, have filed fewer motions, mostly dealing with jury selection and trial procedures, to insure their client gets a fair trial.

Because Villonueva is from Mexico and not fluent in English, the Officer of Court Interpreter Services has provided him with an interpreter during his court appearances, and that service will continue to insure he understands trial proceedings.

While the defendants are scheduled for trial in December, there is a possibility of a delay.

In August, defense attorney Benca asked that a Sept. 13 trial date be continued, because his co-counsel, Shane Ethridge, had resigned as a public defender. Benca indicated he was waiting for his wife, Kara Benca, to be appointed to assist him, and it would take some time for her to get "up to speed" on issues in the case.

In addition, Benca said he had just received 400-pages of new discovery from prosecutors, and it would need to be reviewed.

Circuit Court files do not contain any of the discovery documents, that prosecutors and defense attorneys exchange to disclose what evidence they intend to present during trial.

Benca also said, in asking that a September trial date be delayed, that he was working with the Consulate of Mexico to obtain records regarding Gonzalez's birthplace and other proof that he is a Mexican citizen. Mexico does not recognize the death penalty, and the Consulate may intervene in Gonzalez's case to argue that he cannot legally be sentenced to death.

In the months since their arrest, Gonzalez and Villonueva have been housed at the Izard County Detention Facility, at great expense to Fulton County government.

While they await disposition of their cases, the defendants have been kept in separate cell blocks to prevent contact with each other.

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losers, both of them. and one of them only 20 years old--killed a man for a measly $200. Send Gonzalez' ashes back to Mexico....he's evil.

-- Posted by conventional1 on Thu, Nov 17, 2011, at 10:07 PM

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