An El Savadorian man was sentenced to federal prison for his role in a horrific gang-related murder of a teenager in the Sam Houston National Forest in 2013.

U.S. attorney Ryan K. Patrick announced that Jose Leonel Bonilla-Romero, 23, who resided in Houston, was sentenced to 460 months and ordered to pay $13,000 in restitution by U.S. district Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.

Bonilla-Romero is expected to face removal proceedings, which are administrative proceedings to determine an alien's removability from the United States and his or her eligibility for relief under the Immigration and Nationality Act. If that occurs, the court ordered he must remain outside the country unless lawfully allowed to return.

Bonilla-Romero admitted to aiding and abetting others with the murder of a 16-year-old Klein High School student whose body was found mutilated in Walker County on Sept. 22, 2013. The others — Cristian Alexander Zamora and Ricardo Leonel Campos Lara, 23, both also of El Salvador, who resided in Huntsville and Houston, respectively — previously pleaded guilty and are currently serving their federal prison sentences.

At the hearing, evidence established the crime was unusually heinous, cruel and degrading. The courts heard of Bonilla-Romero’s conduct in detention were clearly inconsistent with acceptance of responsibility. He has continued his allegiance to the MS-13 gang and continued the use of gang signs.

The victim’s family spoke today as well. They mentioned how they had given Bonilla- Romero support for two weeks and how they allowed him to share clothes with their son, gave him food and let him share a room with the victim.

Judge Werlein noted Bonilla-Romero was the victim’s friend. However, he supplied him with alcohol and coerced him to come to the federal land in Huntsville, knowing he was going to be killed. The court further noted Bonilla-Romero even struck the first blow. He took a metal baseball bat, concealing it from the victim, and then hid behind him, rushed him and hit him with such force that he fractured his skull.

Bonilla-Romero has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Walker County Sheriff McRae would like to thank all participating agencies for their role in this investigation; the FBI, Houston Police Department, Texas Rangers, Walker County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service, who conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark E. Donnelly and Casey MacDonald prosecuted the case.

 

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