Jury selection underway in Texas murder trial of man accused in severed-head case

Erick “Diablo” Zelaya’s severed head was found on Sept. 2, 2017, near a man-made walking trail not far from AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Near the head, Arlington police found a sign written in Spanish that read,”La Raza Se Resreta y Faltan 4” which loosely translated, appears to mean, “The race, or group, must be respected and there’s only four left.”

Zelaya’s body and the body of his 17-year-old girlfriend, Iris Chirinos, were later found in shallow graves behind a house in the 200 block of Burton Drive in Arlington. Both had been shot multiple times.

Hector “Cholo”Acosta-Ojeda, 30, of Arlington was arrested and charged in those deaths as well as the robbery and killing of Triston Ray Algiene in July 2017.

Jury selection was underway Monday in his capital murder trial in Criminal District Court No. 396 in Tarrant County.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Acosta.

He and another man, Felipe Eduardo Ortiz, are charged with in Algiene’s murder. Algiene’s body — cut in half and concealed under a repair patch in a home’s foundation — was found Oct. 3, 2017, inside a vacant home in the 6400 block of Woodway Drive in southwest Fort Worth.

That Fort Worth capital murder case again Acosta is pending.

Testimony in the Arlington capital murder case is scheduled to begin next month.

The gruesome Arlington case began with the discovery of Zelaya’s severed head.

That same day, Mariano 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 on Burton Drive in Arlington

Arlington police executed a search warrant at the Burton house Sept. 3, 2017, and 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’ body remained intact, Arlington police said.

Sanchez-Pina asked to speak to Arlington Police Department homicide Detective Grant Gildon again on Sept. 3, 2017, and told the investigator that he witnessed Acosta attack Zelaya, according to an affidavit. Previously, Sanchez-Pina had told Gildon that he had arrived at the house on Burton to find Zelaya already dead.

Arlington police believe the slayings were motivated by a dispute over money and drugs, and a machete was used.

In September 2017, Arlington investigators had found no indications that Chirinos was involved in the dispute, but said she may have just been at the house with her boyfriend at the wrong time.

Sanchez-Pina, 20, of Arlington, who remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Monday, has been charged with tampering with physical evidence. His trial is pending.

This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

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