Old Murders, New Cases

Border Patrol agents nab Mexican national wanted for Northeast Austin murder; and man sentenced to life in prison for 1984 killing

On Oct. 30, U.S. Border Patrol agents in McAllen nabbed Mexican national Jose Luis Vences-Maldonado, who was wanted for the 13-year-old murder of Fabian Ponce in Northeast Aus­tin. Back on Nov. 20, 1994, police responding to a "shots fired" call on West­heim­er found Ponce dead from a gunshot to the head. An arrest warrant for Vences-Maldo­nado was filed the next day, but he was nowhere to be found. That is, until last week when border agents detained the 47-year-old (along with several others) for possible immigration violations; Vences-Maldonado is now awaiting extradition to Travis Co.

Also last week, on Oct. 31, Travis Co. District Judge Wilford Flowers sentenced Martin Torres to life in prison for the murder of 33-year-old Jeeta Graeber, found bludgeoned, strangled, and sexually assaulted inside her apartment on Spyglass Drive on June 29, 1984. During the murder investigation, police interviewed a slew of witnesses – including Torres – but no arrests were made. Six years later, in June 1990, police found the body of 19-year-old Cerrelle Belt inside her North-Central Austin apartment. Belt had also been bludgeoned, strangled, and sexually assaulted. Again, numerous witnesses were identified, but no arrests were made. Both cases eventually made it into the cold-case files, until 1999 when DNA testing linked evidence from the two crimes, revealing that one person was likely responsible for both murders. APD's Homicide Cold Case Unit detectives began investigating the two crimes together, and in December 2004, Torres' fingerprints were matched to the Graeber crime scene, and investigative documents revealed he was a resident in the same complex as Belt at the time of her murder. That month, police issued an arrest warrant in connection with the two murders; in November 2005, police found Torres living in Nuevo Laredo. Subsequent DNA testing matched him to evidence found at both crime scenes. He now awaits trial for the murder of Belt.

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APD, Martin Torres, Cerelle Belt, Jeeta Graeber, Wilford Flowers, Fabian Ponce, Jose Luis Vences-Maldonado

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