SAN BERNARDINO – A 43-year-old Yucca Valley man was convicted on Thursday for burning his ex-girlfriend to death in 2011. On October 22, 2011, police from the Ontario Police Department arrived at the location to find neighbors administering aid to 34-year-old Maria Banuelos.
Banuelos was still on fire at the time of arrival and while still at the scene she identified her attackers. With her dying words, according to court testimony being, “Hector Meza set me on fire. He is abusive and obsessive”, authorities were able to quickly locate suspect, Hector Meza. Banuelos was rushed to the hospital, but she died as a result of her injuries two days later. Autopsy result indicated that she suffered three blows to her head with a metal bar-like object prior to being set on fire.
“On this particular night, the victim was leaving her apartment,” said Deputy District Attorney Kent Williams, who prosecuted the case. “She left her apartment and shortly later her family heard screams. They exited the apartment and saw the victim engulfed in flames on the ground.”
In addition to the arrest of Meza, four other suspects were linked to the attack, including; Robert Chico Zapata, 24, Johnny Eugene Hernandez, 23, Johnathan Zuniga, 28, and Genese Ramirez Leon, 25.
On Thursday, a jury found Meza guilty of one count of First Degree Murder, with the jury finding true the special circumstances that the murder was committed during the course or commission of Mayhem, that the murder was intentional and involved infliction of Torture, and that the defendant killed the victim by means of Lying in Wait. The jury also found Meza guilty of one count of Aggravated Mayhem, one count of Torture, and one count of Arson Causing Great Bodily Injury.
Mesa will be sentenced at the Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court on January 4, 2017, where he will face Life in Prison without the Possibility of Parole. The remaining four defendants will also return to court in January.
Prosecutors and Investigators believe there may be more witnesses. If you or someone you know has information related to this case, please contact Lt. Langford at the Ontario Police Department at (909) 395-2001.
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