June 15, 2011
DENVER – Four inmates who were housed at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Florence, Colorado were found guilty by a jury yesterday of Conspiracy and Second Degree Murder, U.S. Attorney John Walsh and FBI Special Agent in Charge James Yacone announced. The three week trial was heard before U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane. The jury deliberated for a few hours before reaching their guilty verdicts. The murder took place on December 29, 2008.
One defendant, Jose Augustin Pluma was charged by Criminal Complaint on April 8, 2009. In addition to Pluma, four other defendants were added to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on July 7, 2009. On October 7, 2009, prosecutors obtained a superseding indictment charging five defendants. The jury trial began on May 13th for four of the defendants, ending on June 14th. The trial of a fifth defendant is scheduled for later this year. The four convicted defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Kane on August 25, 2011.
According to the indictment, and the facts presented during the trial, defendants Jose Augustin Pluma, Juan Martin Ruelas, Mark Rosalez, and Justin Hernandez, were all inmates at FCI Florence, a medium security facility. All were members of the Surenos gang.
Count 1 of the indictment separately charged the four defendants with conspiracy to assault of Pablo Zuniga-Garcia. Count 2 charged them with second degree murder and/or aiding and abetting second degree murder).
On December 28, 2008, Hernandez, a Surenos leader, met with two inmates, unnamed co-conspirators, ordering them to physically assault Zuniga-Garcia in the Pueblo Bravo housing unit. Hernandez told the two unnamed co-conspirators to expect additional assailants to participate in the attack. On December 29, 2008, Rosalez, a lieutenant of Hernandez, met with another inmate in the Pueblo B housing unit. He asked that inmate to act as a lookout during the assault. He also instructed that inmate to ensure that the victim not escape from the Pueblo B housing unit once the attack commenced.
During the early hours of December 29, 2008, Pluma and another inmate involved in the assault walked from Pueblo Alpha to Pueblo Bravo where the victim resided. Pluma and the other inmate met with two other unnamed co-conspirators. All were armed with a makeshift weapons: padlocks attached to belts. Pluma and three others then entered the cell with their makeshift weapons and began a 15 minute beating of Zuniga-Garcia. Ruelas and another unnamed co-conspirator took their places as lookouts. Pluma and the two others assaulted the victim by striking him in the head and body with their hands, feet and weapons, including the padlocks attached to belts. Zuniga-Garcia suffered serious head injuries and died as a result of the assault.
“These guilty verdicts show that despite being in prison, if you kill someone while incarcerated – or assist in that killing in any way – you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
This collaborative effort by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Attorney’s Office, and the FBI illustrates the Federal government’s commitment to hold incarcerated violent criminals accountable for their actions,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge James Yacone. “I am hopeful the convictions provide a sense of justice for the Zuniga-Garcia family.”
Each defendant faces up to life in federal prison for their role in the beating death of Zuniga-Garcia.
This case was investigate by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with substantial assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
The defendants were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Hosley, Hayley Reynolds, and Robert Brown.