Man arrested in Mexico in Cincinnati-area slayings

Santiago Moreno (Courtesy Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office)
Santiago Moreno (Courtesy Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office)

CINCINNATI (AP) - Authorities in Mexico have arrested a man in the slayings of four Mexican construction workers who had been beaten and methodically stabbed in the heart at the Ohio apartment they shared, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Santiago Moreno, 34, was arrested Sunday in Tampico, 335 miles northeast of Mexico City, and will be tried there, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

"We know we have the right guy," Deters said. "He was a suspect right out of the gate." Moreno had been indicted three separate times - all under seal - by Hamilton County grand juries, Deters said.

The decomposing bodies of four illegal immigrants, Moreno's roommates, were found in their apartment in suburban Sharonville after they had not reported to work for several days.

"If you overlay the autopsy photos, they're almost identical," Deters said of the men's injuries. Hamilton County Coroner O'dell Owens identified the victims as brothers Manuel Davila Duenas, 31, and Jose de Jesus Davila Duenas, 21; Lino Guardado Davila, 45; and Manuel Lopez Guardado, 21, also identified by Mexican authorities as Conrado Lopez Guardado.

Authorities immediately suspected Moreno, who had bought a bus ticket to Mexico more than a week before the bodies were found.

Authorities believe he killed his roommates to steal their money. The first indictment, issued within days of the killings, was for theft in an attempt to keep Moreno from leaving the country, Deters said.

Two months later, in February 2008, Deters obtained an indictment on four counts of murder. Just last month, the indictment was upgraded to four counts of aggravated murder, at the request of Mexican officials, Deters said, and a warrant for Moreno's arrest was issued in Mexico last week.

The two earlier indictments have been dismissed, Deters said.

Mexican authorities had been watching Moreno for some time and when the paperwork was completed, arrested him in Tampico, where he had been working as a fisherman, Deters said. Moreno and the four men who were killed had been bricklayers and stonemasons for the same company, ABC Precision Masonry in Mason, north of Cincinnati. Authorities found the bodies after the normally reliable men had missed work for several days and their employer asked for help locating them.

"These guys worked their tails off," Deters said. "They showed up on time and worked hard."

The men, including Moreno, lived in a sparsely furnished apartment, sleeping on mattresses on the floor while sending thousands of dollars to relatives in Mexico, officials have said.

The four victims were from the town of Zacaton in the northern Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, just west of Tampico, a spokesman at the Mexican embassy said after the bodies were found. A relative and a local parish priest in Mexico have said the workers had just taken out large amounts of cash to bring back to Mexico for Christmas when they were killed.

Deters, who usually seeks the death penalty in cases like this, said he thought there might be problems obtaining witnesses if he tried the case in Cincinnati. And although Mexico does not have the death penalty, he was satisfied by assurances from Mexican prosecutors that Moreno was likely to be convicted and to be sentenced to at least 60 years in prison. Deters said he did not know when Moreno would be tried.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)