HOUSTON – A 23-year-old El Salvadorian
citizen has been ordered to federal prison for his role in a horrific gang
slaying – the murder of a teenager in the Sam Houston National Forest in 2013,
announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. Jose Leonel Bonilla-Romero aka Jose
Tupapa, who resided in Houston, pleaded guilty April 19, 2019.
U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. handed Bonilla-Romero
a 460-month term of imprisonment and ordered him to pay $13,000 in restitution.
Not a U.S. citizen, he is expected to face removal proceedings following the
sentence. If that occurs, the court ordered he must remain outside the country
unless lawfully allowed to return.
the hearing, evidence established the crime was unusually heinous, cruel and
degrading. The court also heard Bonilla-Romero’s
detention was clearly inconsistent with acceptance of responsibility. He has
continued his allegiance to the MS-13 gang and continued the use of gang signs.
victim’s family also spoke today, mentioning how they took in Bonilla-Romero and let him share a room with the victim. They
commented that they had given Bonilla-Romero support
for two weeks, allowing him to share clothes with their son and giving him
food. The victim’s father asked Bonilla-Romero
to repent and
accept God. As the judge pronounced the sentence, the victim’s mother wept in
back of courtroom.
handing down the lengthy prison term, Judge Werlein noted Bonilla-Romero was the victim’s friend. However, he supplied him with
alcohol and coerced him to come to the federal land in Huntsville, knowing he
was going to be killed. The
court further noted Bonilla-Romero even struck the first blow. He took
a metal baseball bat, concealing it from the victim, and then hid behind him,
rushed him and hit him with such force that he fractured his skull.
At the time of his plea, Bonilla-Romero
admitted to aiding and abetting two others in the murder of the 16-year-old
victim Sept. 22, 2013.
Those others - Cristian Alexander Zamora aka
Christian Zamora, Alex or Pollo, 28, and Ricardo Leonel Campos Lara aka La
Muerte, 24, both also of El Salvador, who resided in Huntsville and Houston,
respectively - previously pleaded guilty and are currently serving their
federal prison sentences of 420 months each.
At the time of Bonilla-Romero’s hearing, the
court heard that when officers found the mutilated victim’s body they observed
gaping wounds on his knees and ankles with his head nearly severed from his
body. The investigation led police to Zamora who ultimately confessed his role
in the crime, implicating Romero and Lara. All three 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
After Bonilla-Romero struck the first blow,
the other two 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.
Bonilla-Romero has been and will remain in
custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined
in near future.
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 prosecuted the case.