Things That Matter

Texas Man Convicted For Beheading His Sleeping Roommate And Killing Roommate’s Girlfriend

After spending more than five hours deliberating on the verdict, a Texas jury has found Hector “El Cholo” Acosta-Ojeda guilty of capital murder for the killings of Erick ‘Diablo’ Zelaya, 26, and Iris Chirinos, 17. Prosecutors said Acosta-Ojeda shot his roommate, Zelaya, twice in the head while he slept. He then used a machete to behead Zelaya and left his severed head on a trail near Arlington, Texas’s AT&T Stadium. Zelaya’s girlfriend, Chirinos tried to flee the scene of the gruesome murder, but Acosta-Ojeda fatally shot her. 

Acosta-Ojeda, 30, pleaded not guilty to the crime and did not take the stand.

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In closing arguments, Acosta-Ojeda’s defense attorneys, Bill Ray and Gary Smart, told the jury that no weapon was linked to Acosta-Ojeda. They argued that the presence of so many other people in the house leaves room for reasonable doubt. They also argued that authorities did not offer a proper reading of Acosta-Ojeda’s Miranda rights, which tell a person under arrest that they have the “right to remain silent” and that, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” By that waive of rights, any confession Acosta-Ojeda made was nullified. 

Still, The Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney (ADA), Kevin Rousseau, argued, “He confessed to every single aspect of this case,” according to the Star-Telegram.

Prosecutors argued that the motive was linked to another shooting, which occurred in May 2017.

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In a series of strange events, Acosta-Ojeda’s home was targeted by gunmen while he and others were sleeping. Moments later, Zelaya and young Chirinos arrived, laughing. The very next day, someone burned down Acosta-Ojeda’s home. ADA Rousseau learned that Zelaya had confessed to being a part of the shooting just hours before Acosta-Ojeda executed him in his sleep.

After Acosta-Ojeda killed the couple, he buried them in a shallow grave in the backyard, but not before he beheaded Zelaya with a machete. He put the head in a trash bag, made a sign, and rode his bicycle, with a severed head in hand, to what was left of his home. There, he left his friend’s severed head along with a sign that read, “La Raza Se Resreta y Faltan 4,” which roughly means, ‘the race, or group, must be respected and only four remain.”

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which will be determined in a sentencing hearing Wednesday.

Credit: Iris Gomez / Facebook

While her family has yet to speak out about the incident, friends have posted to her Facebook page, saying “God rest your soul. Prayers to your family.. god sees your true beauty, he will judge the criminal that did this to you… RIP.” Folks continue to post to her page, years later, with thoughts like, “I miss you babygirl. RIP,” and “Missing you like crazy, love you lil sis.”

If the jury doesn’t reach a unanimous decision on capital punishment, Acosta-Ojeda will receive mandatory minimum sentencing of life imprisonment without parole.

Members of the alt-right have tried to use the story to further anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Credit: @TEEITHIGH / Twitter

“Look at the face of the people crossing our border every day to seek that better life. Why behead in Mexico when you can behead in America?” tweets Clayton Freeman. “Democrats want people like this in America!
SIC,” tweeted another woman. A Facebook post sharing the news on the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office page had just one comment: “Hang him!”

Acosta-Ojeda is implicated in another murder case that opened just one month after he killed Zelaya and Chirinos. 

Credit: Triston Algiene / Facebook

Acosta-Ojeda is accused of robbing and murdering 34-year-old Triston Ray Algiene. In October 2017, Algiene’s mutilated body was found, cut in half, and buried in concrete in the foundation of a vacant home. Another man, Felipe Eduardo Ortiz, is also accused in the murder. The two had been renting rooms in the house they chose to bury the body under. Authorities suspect that Ortiz and Acosta-Ojeda had set up the meeting with Algiene to appear as a drug deal, but planned to rob and murder him. According to a report last year, Algiene was then tied with duct tape and rope and beaten into giving the PIN number to his debit card. Now-deceased Zelaya and Chirinos allegedly were tasked with withdrawing money from the ATM. They called Acosta-Ojeda, who allegedly got angry and killed Algiene. They dug a hole in the bedroom, sawed Algiene’s body in half, and covered it up. By the time investigators arrived, the house had been remodeled and up for sale. 

READ: The Murder of a Teen Mom By Her Boyfriend is Raising a Discussion Around the Prevalence of Femicide in Abusive Relationships

The El Paso Walmart Where A White Nationalist Killed 22 People Reopens With #ElPasoStrong Banner

Things That Matter

The El Paso Walmart Where A White Nationalist Killed 22 People Reopens With #ElPasoStrong Banner

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Amid a class action lawsuit over safety, Walmart has hired off-duty officers to man its El Paso store during today’s quiet reopening, over three months since the deadly, racist mass shooting. On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist drove ten hours from Dallas, Texas, to the Cielo Vista shopping center, armed to kill as many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as possible. That day, more than 3,000 people were in the El Paso Walmart, and 22 died within the few minutes the shooter opened fire. 

A security guard was scheduled to be there that fateful day but didn’t show. Walmart is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, which is not seeking monetary damages but rather answers as to why Walmart didn’t adequately protect its customers.

The El Paso Walmart reopened its doors but not without an #ElPasoStrong banner greeting customers.

Before its scheduled opening at 9 a.m., employees gathered for the first time since the shooting for an employee meeting. Many wore “El Paso Strong” pins on their nametags. This time, armed off-duty police officers will be standing by, comforting many and alarming others. “There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior (to) August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo, told The Daily Mail in an email. 

The officers will be paid $50 per hour, roughly double their hourly wage.

Credit: @anjelia3464 / Twitter

Walmart has significantly invested in its security measures at all Walmart stores. “We typically do not share our security measures publicly because it could make them less effective,” Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told the outlet, “But they may include hiring additional security, adding cameras in-store and using ‘lot cops’ in the parking lot. We will continue our long-standing practice of regularly evaluating our staffing, training, procedures, and technology which are designed to provide a safe working and shopping experience.”

If the government won’t implement gun reform, does the burden of protecting shoppers now lie in corporations?

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and the single largest roadblock to gun reform in America. The NRA donates to politicians who then ensure its interests are protected. The class action against Walmart presents a morose shift in the political landscape. It presumes that mentally ill people armed with assault-style weapons are something businesses should expect to protect their customers from. 

While it’s legally sound for Walmart to hire the off-duty officers to protect itself from liability, where is the burden on the police department? If the United States won’t pass gun reform measures, should it raise taxes instead to militarize the police and station them at every church, synagogue, movie theater and chain store? Will corporations band together to lobby the government, founded in capitalism, to take this undue burden off its back?

One shopper reflects the sentiment of many heading to Walmart today: “We aren’t letting this beat us.”

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Journalist Keenan Willard met Emma Ferguson in the parking lot of the Walmart. She stopped to smile for a photo and tell him what her shopping experience means to her. “It’s about standing up to our fear. We aren’t letting this beat us.” Willard quoted her in a tweet.

The City of El Paso began removing the makeshift memorial behind Walmart earlier this week to prepare for its reopening.

Credit: @tornandra / Twitter

Journalist and El Paso resident Andra Litton tweeted a photo of the makeshift memorial behind Walmart the evening before the City of El Paso started removing the items, along with the fencing, “making it visible from I-10 for the first time since the Aug 3 shooting,” she tweeted. “It still hurts. #ElPasoStrong”

The items have been moved to Ponder Park, across the street from Walmart.

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Next to the memorial are “Temporary Memorial Site” signs in both Spanish and English. They read, “The City of El Paso invites the public to honor the victims of the August 3, 2019 tragedy at the Temporary Memorial at Ponder Park. The public may leave memorial items at the site. The public is encouraged to tie an orange ribbon in remembrance of those lost on August 3, 2019.” Along the fence, traditional Mexican sombreros hang next to a green star that says, “God cares!” “Pray for El Paso” and “#FronteraStrong,” along with Día de Muertos images of Frida Kahlo pepper the memorial.

A permanent memorial is under construction in the Walmart parking lot.

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The ‘Grand Candela’ will be 30 feet tall, and projected to be unveiled by the end of the year. A month after the El Paso shooting, Walmart announced its plan to phase out certain types of ammunition from its stores, reducing its market share of ammunition from 20 percent to less than 10 percent. 

Still, some feel Walmart’s reopening, with the memorial or not, is a “slap in the face” to the victims. “It’s disrespectful to the people who died in the shooting,” college student Brandon Flores, 19, told CNN. “Anyone would be able to walk over the place where their bodies were laying and it would be just like nothing happened.”

READ: El Paso Artists Joined Together To Commemorate El Paso Gun Violence Victims With A Mural That Highlights Community Strength

The Dine and Dash of $11 Worth of Chalupas Left One Woman With Almost $500 in Fines and a Felony Conviction

Culture

The Dine and Dash of $11 Worth of Chalupas Left One Woman With Almost $500 in Fines and a Felony Conviction

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With the advent of cuisines like Tex Mex or “Latin-Fusion” cuisines, it can be difficult to find good, authentic Mexican food out in the wild. Especially when so many non-Latinx Americans considers “authentic” Mexican food to be fast-food joints like Taco Bell and Del Taco. It’s practically a universal right for Mexican abuelas to grumble about how disgusting Americanized Mexican food is. And can we blame them? Sure, we love a Crunch Wrap Supreme as much as the next person, but the fast-food twists on Mexican classics give non-Mexicans a warped perception of what true Mexican food actually tastes like. 

And apparently, this problem has become so bad that one particular argument over the authenticity of a certain Mexican food item went all the way up to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The seedy story involves a chalupa, an argument, and an unpaid bill.

Credit: @hotforfood/Instagram

Los Amigos, an Indiana restaurant specializing in “authentic” Mexican food, took a woman named Jennifer Peru to court because she refused to pay for a chalupa that she claimed wasn’t a real chalupa.

On its surface, we can understand why Culver was confused. The chalupas that are sold at Taco Bell are described as  “a fried tortilla shell, in the shape of a small boat, filled with lots of flavorful ingredients”, and Culver may have been used to that version. But according to Los Amigos’s menu, their chalupa is “a flat tortilla with refried beans, topped with cheese and guacamole salad”. To no one’s suprrise, there is quite a stark contrast between the way a fast food joint approaches making Mexican food in comparison to the way a local, mom-and-pop store would make one. 

Credit: via GoogleMaps

The conflict, which happened on February 6, 2018, became a lot dicier after the restaurant’s manager intervened to attempt to alleviate Ms. Culver’s distress. According to court documents, the manager did everything he was supposed to do according to American standards of customer service. He offered to replace the chalupa, he offered to give Culver something different, and he offered to remove the dish and refund her money. Culver refused his offer and continued her meal with her two children (who had ordered a quesadilla and two drinks, in case you were wondering). 

Credit: via GoogleMaps

But things between Culver and Los Amigos took a turn for the worse after Culver finished her chalupa and quietly tried to leave the restaurant without paying her bill.

According to court records, Culver tried to sneak out of the restaurant by walking “briskly” past the cash register with her two children in tow. But the restaurant manager caught up to Culver in the parking lot before she could make her great escape. After being asked to pay her $11.73 bill, Culver responded that she’s “not paying for that [expletive]”. Because the manager wasn’t one to mess around with, he called the cops on the dine-and-dasher and reported her for theft. 

According to the local police, they called Culver five times asking her to pay for her stolen chalupa, and assured her that if she coughed up $12, the restaurant would not pursue legal action. But apparently, Culver was convinced that she was in the right in this situation. As promised, Los Amigos decided to press charges and Culver was convicted for theft. The charge was then elevated to felony theft after the courts discovered she had a prior conviction for the theft on her record. 

Credit: @livingkool_/Instagram

Ultimately, a jury convicted Culver of a level 6 felony theft, resulting in 120 days on electronic monitoring, and 14 months of probation, and fined a cumulative total of $485.

Culver wasn’t happy with this decision, however, and appealed the conviction in the Indiana Court of Appeals. But the Court of Appeals held up the original conviction, unanimously deciding that Culver had, indeed, unlawfully dined and dashed, veritably stealing from Los Amigos. As of now, the saga has ended. It’s safe to say that Culver learned the lesson of not messing with the manager of an authentic Mexican restaurant. 

According to some brief internet research, this isn’t the first time that Los Amigos has resorted to teaming up with law enforcement in order to combat difficult customers. One particularly salty 2019 Google review of Los Amigos claims that the restaurant stated they “were going to call the cops” if a woman attempted to not pay for her meal after she complained of its quality at the cash register. While the woman claimed she had no intention of doing so, she was still annoyed that the matter was on the verge of being escalated so abruptly. Considering this altercation happened a full year after The Chalupa Incident of 2019, it’s no wonder the staff was on edge. If there’s one thing Los Amigos doesn’t stand for, it’s claims that their food is inauthentic.