A Fort Worth man about to begin trial on accusations that he sexually assaulted and squeezed to death a 67-year-old mentally ill woman in 2014 was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday in a last-minute plea deal.
Jury selection was underway for Miguel Piedra’s felony murder trial when he indicated that he wanted a plea deal in the case.
In an agreement reached with prosecutors Wednesday morning, the 52-year-old man pleaded guilty to one of the multiple first-degree felony counts he faced — injury to the elderly causing serious bodily injury.
Piedra had been jailed since October 2014 in the death of Xuan Le, whose body was found the afternoon of Oct. 26, 2014, near the 1200 block of Atkins Street and east of Echo Lake.
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Prosecutors say Piedra evidently lured Le, an MHMR patient, into his car the night before with beer after a chance encounter at a Fort Worth convenience store. He then took her to Echo Lake Park where he caused her death by squeezing her body while attempting to sexually assault her, they say.
The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled Le’s death a homicide caused by asphyxia.
“Due to Xuan Le’s mental health struggles, she had a difficult life, but it was a life worth living nonetheless. The prosecution of Miguel Piedra shows that she was an important part of our community and she will not be forgotten,” said Kacey Fickes, who prosecuted the case along with Kim D’Avignon.
Rose Anna Salinas, Piedra’s defense attorney, did not return a message seeking comment.
Le was a regular sight sitting outside the convenience store in the 4800 block of James Avenue, just a few blocks from the group home where she resided.
“She was someone who just liked to sit and watch,” D’Avignon said. “She wasn’t a nuisance, so they let her.”
The store’s surveillance video showed that on the night of Oct. 25, 2014, a car pulled up and a man spoke briefly to Le before walking into the store. Shortly afterward, the man emerged from the store and held up some beer toward the woman.
She then could be seen getting up and getting into the man’s car, D’Avignon said.
When her body was found the next afternoon near Echo Lake, Le was naked from the waist down.
“He left her like trash,” D’Avignon said.
D’Avignon said homicide detectives were able to identify Le and learned that she was an MHMR patient through belongings found with her body.
“She was the kind of lady who carried all her belongings along with her in a trash bag wherever she went,” D’Avignon said.
Police visited the group home where Le lived. There, they learned the woman was missing and that the home’s owner had gone in search of her at the nearby convenience store where she liked to hang out.
Detectives also went to the store, where they viewed the surveillance video that showed Piedra’s car but not his license plate.
Officers with the police department’s zero tolerance unit fanned out in the area of the store and located a car similar in description in a lot next to Piedra’s home. Piedra, the car’s registered owner, looked like the man seen in the video, D’Avignon said.
In a voluntary interview with homicide Detective Jerry Cedillo, Piedra admitted to sexually assaulting Le and squeezing her until she was no longer moving.
Piedra will have to serve 15 years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.