Former employee pleads guilty in 2005 murder

Found in a Mexican jail, Nunez Valles brought back to Maryland to face charges

May 24, 2010|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Hauled back to Maryland from his native Mexico, a 30-year-old former Columbia man pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree murder in the 2005 killing of his boss in West Friendship.

Prosecutors say Joel Nunez Valles stabbed Juan Miguel Gonzales 19 times with a screwdriver in the head, face and neck in October 2005. They say Nunez Valles, whom a relative described as a cocaine addict, became angry when the 51-year-old Gonzales refused to lend him money.

Gonzales, also known as Abolino Avila, had employed Nunez Valles in his landscaping business.

Prosecutors say Nunes Valles, who they believe was in the United States illegally, fled by bus to Mexico the day after the killing. U.S. authorities found him last fall jailed on an unrelated charge in the Mexican city of Chihuahua.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence with all but 40 years suspended, rather than life without parole, because many of the witnesses are relatives of Valles and have been "marginally cooperative", according to Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman.

Under the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico, he may not be sentenced to death, Gelfman said.

Police identified Nunez Valles as a suspect after a neighbor said he had spotted a black pickup truck pull up to Gonzales' West Friendship home on the night of Oct. 19, 2005. A check of motor vehicle records indicated that the truck was registered to a brother of Nunez Valles.

The neighbor told police that he saw two men get out and approach Gonzales before they disappeared from view.

Prosecutors said that Valles took $2,000 from Gonzales. His lawyer said it was $450.

Gonzales' body was found by another employee two days later.

Though several relatives implicated Valles at the time of the murder — one of his sisters-in-law provided police with a blood-stained T-shirt and one of his brothers said Valles told him that he "had committed a stupidity" and admitted to killing Gonzales — it took Howard County prosecutors more than a year to get all the paperwork finalized with the federal government and more time to locate him.

"It wasn't easy to track him down," Assistant State's Attorney Susan Weinstein said Monday.

When authorities found Valles last October, he was being treated for depression "for the remorse he felt" for killing Gonzales, Weinstein said. Public defender Louis Willemin corroborated that, saying after the plea hearing Monday, "He's very remorseful."

Sentencing is scheduled July 8.

A second suspect was awaiting extradition from Washington state. Alvaro Ramirez, 29, faces charges of first- and second-degree murder, armed robbery and theft.

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