Money and drugs were behind the savage machete attack and fatal shooting of a 27-year-old man whose severed head was found last weekend along a walking trail in Arlington, police said Friday.
Erick “Diablo” Zelaya died from multiple gunshot wounds, the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled Friday.
His 17-year-old girlfriend, Iris Chirinos, was also killed by gunshots and found buried along with the remainder of Zelaya’s body in a shallow grave behind an Arlington home.
Lt. Christopher Cook, an Arlington police spokesman, said investigators have found no indications that Chirinos was involved in the dispute, but may have just been at the house with her boyfriend at the wrong time.
“We definitely believe it’s all intertwined, entangled with illicit drugs,” Cook said. “We do believe it comes back to that nexus, related to money and drugs.”
Hector “Cholo” Acosta-Ojeda, 28, and Mariano Sanchez-Pina, 18, remained jailed on suspicion of murder in connection with the case.
Acosta-Ojeda, a Mexican national who Cook said was reportedly in the U.S. on some type of visa, was arrested Thursday at a Fort Worth home after a several-day search by Arlington police.
Bail for him is set at $1 million with his warrant noting that he is a flight risk, a non-U.S. citizen, and that “multiple victims” are possible.
Leg, foot also discovered
The gruesome case began Sept. 2 with the discovery of Zelaya’s severed head near a man-made walking trail in a wooded area west of Truman and East Sanford Street. A sign next to the head read “La Raza Se Resreta y Faltan 4” or, loosely translated, “The race, or group, must be respected and there’s only four left.”
That same day, Sanchez-Pina was arrested on an unrelated warrant and later gave homicide detectives information about the severed head they’d found.
Sanchez-Pina told investigators that a man he knew only as “Diablo” had been murdered and buried behind a home in the 200 block of Burton Drive.
Arlington police executed a search warrant at the Burton house Sept. 3, where they found a machete, possible blood evidence and an area of ground recently disturbed in the back yard.
A subsequent search of the back yard by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office uncovered a human leg and foot believed to be Zelaya’s. Through additional excavation, officials eventually found the remainder of Zelaya’s body and that of Chirinos.
Chirinos’s body remained intact, Cook said.
Sanchez-Pina asked to speak to homicide Detective Grant Gildon again on Sept. 3, telling the investigator that he witnessed Acosta-Ojeda attack Zelaya, according to the affidavit. Previously, Sanchez-Pina had told Gildon that he had arrived at the house on Burton to find Zelaya already dead.
In his latest interview, however, Sanchez-Pina claimed Acosta-Ojeda had previously told him that he believed Zelaya had stolen money from him.
‘Hit him in the back of the head’
Sanchez-Pina said he had gone to the Burton residence and was surprised to see both Zelaya and Acosta-Ojeda there.
Sanchez-Pina said he was standing on the front porch, talking to Zelaya who was standing in the home’s living room, when he witnessed Acosta-Ojeda attack Zelaya from behind.
“Sanchez describes seeing the suspect (Acosta-Ojeda) walk up behind the victim and hit him in the back of the head with an object he believed to be a machete,” Gildon wrote in the arrest warrant affidavit.
After seeing Zelaya fall to the floor, Sanchez-Pina told police he ran away. He said Acosta-Ojeda later called him and instructed him to come back to the house, the affidavit states.
When he returned, Acosta-Ojeda was digging a hole in the back yard, Sanchez-Pina told police.
Cook said Acosta-Ojeda is cooperating with investigators.
“He has not denied his involvement,” Cook said.
Cook said investigators are still not certain of the sequence of Zelaya’s attack, nor the validity of the statements given by Sanchez-Pina, who was formally charged with murder Thursday in connection with Zelaya’s death.
Zelaya, believed to be from El Salvador, had known Acosta-Ojeda for years and had lived with the man off and on, Cook said.
Cook said the investigation has revealed no connections between the case and the cartel or MS-13 gang.