(CNSNews.com) - On the morning of Sept. 22, 2013, Josael Guevara was a 16-year-old sophomore at Klein Forest High School in Houston, Texas. Before that day was over, he was dead, his body found brutally beaten and dismembered in the Sam Houston National Forest.
Cristian Zamora, 22, and Ricardo Campos-Lara, 19, both illegal aliens from El Salvador, were arrested in connection with Guevara’s murder. Both were indicted for the murder by a federal grand jury in June.
During Zamora’s detention hearing on July 1, FBI Special Agent Pilar Lozano, one of several agents working on the case, explained how Zamora, Campos-Lara and a third defendant, a juvenile she did not name, allegedly lured Guevara to the park with the intent of killing him. The Houston Chronicle has identified the third defendant as 17-year-old Jose Bonilla-Romero, who has been charged with murder in Walker County, Texas, rather than in federal court.
Lozano, who works on the FBI’s multi-agency gang task force, said that the murder was ordered by the notoriously violent Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, of which all the defendants and Guevara were reportedly members.
Lozano said interviews with Zamora and his co-defendants also revealed that higher-ups in the gang had reportedly ordered a hit on the high school student after he gave “derogatory information” about gang members in El Salvador. She added that MS-13 kill orders are common and are often used by lower-ranking members to earn higher status within the gang, which she described as being “extremely violent.”
The day of the murder, Zamora and the two other alleged perpetrators drove the unsuspecting teenager to the park in Zamora’s truck, where they got out of the vehicle to use the restroom, Lozano testified.
Bonilla-Romero then struck Guevara in the head with a bat before Zamora began hitting him with the machete, she said.
At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Donnelly, who is prosecuting the case, said that Guevara was “struck in the head with the bat and also that he was struck repeatedly with the machete.”
While both Zamora and Campos-Lara have pleaded “not guilty” to the murder charges, Lozano testified that Zamora admitted during investigation interviews that he struck Guevara with a machete.
“Did Mr. Zamora admit to striking the victim with the machete?” Donnelly asked.
“Yes,” Lozano replied.
“And was the condition of the victim consistent with the information provided to you by Mr. Zamora and the other two co-defendants?” Donnelly asked.
Again Lozano answered, “Yes.”
In response to cross-examining by Zamora’s lawyer, Criminal Defense Attorney Peter Bray, Lozano testified that Zamora hit the boy in the legs with the machete after he had been killed.
“Another thing that’s consistent across all of the interviews, is it not, is that Mr. Zamora is said to have hit the victim in the legs,” Zamora’s lawyer pressed.
“He stated that, yes.”
“And other people stated that, too, right? The juvenile stated that too?"
“I believe so, yes.”
Zamora’s lawyer also described how “the autopsy report establishes that the strikes to the legs happened post-mortem.”
“They broke the femur,” Lozano confirmed.
“Post-mortem?” he asked.
“I believe so.”
A female witness out jogging with her dog at the time of the murder reportedly saw the men leaving the park after the crime, Lozano continued.
“There was a female that they discussed killing because she had seen them leaving the park, so they talked about killing her because she had seen them,” Lozano explained, saying the alleged murderers thought about running her over with the car before deciding to leave instead.
After the murder, law enforcement officials found bloody clothing in a dumpster near Zamora’s trailer home. They also found a bat they believe could have been used in Guevara’s murder located in Zamora’s home.
During the initial investigation, agents found a deleted photo on Zamora’s phone of Guevara’s body, as well as photos of “Mr. Zamora flashing MS-13 hand symbols, posing with a machete, posing with a gun, posing with a marijuana plant and posing with MS-13 art,” Lozano testified.
“Also in his possession was a photo of the victim’s student I.D., so he had photographed that,” Lozano said. “And also a photo of him posing with the victim and the other co-defendant flashing gang symbols.”
Agents also found Facebook messages to an unknown person on Zamora’s computer sent on the day Guevara was killed, in which Zamora discussed killing someone.
“There was a conversation between Mr. Zamora and another individual by the Facebook moniker of ‘Tu Angelito,’ which is ‘Your Angel,’” Lozano explained. “In that conversation, Zamora states ‘I’m gonna go hit that dog.’ And the other person responds, ‘I would like to see how you, I would like to hear about how you dismember him.’ He used descuachipando, which is a slang word for ‘to chop up,’ or ‘dismember.’”
After the murder, Zamora sent a message confirming the murder had been carried out, Lozano told the court.
“He said he used ‘steel,’ which can be a metal object, or in this case a machete,’” Lozano said.
After the murder, Campos-Lara sent “proof of death” photos of Guevara’s brutalized body to two people in Virginia, a state with a particularly strong MS-13 presence, she said.
The area around Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia have long been known as a stronghold of MS-13, and have been noted by the FBI as one of the top cities in the nation for MS-13 activity.
In her testimony, Lozano confirmed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a detainer for Zamora saying that if he was released he would be placed in deportation proceedings.
CNSNews.com reported earlier this month that Zamora had been cited for driving without a valid driver’s license in 2011. After pleading “no contest,” he was fined $136, according to court records.
When CNSNews.com asked if Immigrations and Customs Enforcement if law enforcement in Texas had checked Zamora’s immigration status with ICE at the time he was cited for driving without a license, a representative for the agency would not comment.
Zamora and Campos-Lara are currently being held in a federal prison pending trial. If convicted, both could face life in prison or the death penalty.