Levelland Police Knee Deep in Murder Investigations - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/8/03

Levelland Police Knee Deep in Murder Investigations

In the usually quiet town of Levelland, Police investigators are working around the clock trying to find answers to another murder. This weekend a 29-year-old resident was stabbed to death, marking the third homicide in Levelland, in only six weeks.

Now the police department is facing a heavier case load than ever before. Can they handle it?

"In 24 years we've investigated a total of 5 homicides, and to have this number three this close together back to back is just something that does not happen here," says Levelland Police Chief Toney Cowan.

Chief Cowan, says his department is doing an excellent job. Working together to hammer out results in record time. "We're not used to this but we're up to it and we're trained. Our officers know what their doing and we're going to get them solved."

The first homicide involved 1-year-old Melanie Rodriguez. She died on July 30th, the autopsy report showed blunt force trauma to the neck and spine as the cause. The suspects? "We still have the two primary suspects that were in the residence at the time of the baby's death. We're waiting for report's to come back from the medical examiners office and the Texas Department lab," said Detective Albert Garcia.

The baby's mother and her boyfriend are the suspects. Then just days later an assault resulted in the death of Justin Wayne Willeby. Samuel Jacob Dean was arrested and charged with the murder. He remains in the Hockley County jail, no trial date has been set.

Then on Saturday morning, officers were called to the 200 block of Avenue N referencing a possible dead body. When police arrived they found 29-year-old Martin Gonzales Jr. lying in a pool of blood. Gonzales' body had more than 30 stab wounds to his left side. "When I pulled up to it, I just couldn't believe that Levelland had another homicide. Especially as violent as this crime scene was and the condition," Cowan said.

But hours later two arrests were made. 17-year-old Christopher Viernes and 26-year-old Paul Ochoa were detained in Yokum County, then transferred to the Hockley County Jail. Both are charged with murder.

"I'm very overwhelmed right now. These three homicides occurring in Levelland has been very traumatic for the whole community. This is not something that is ordinary for the city of Levelland and I think a lot of people are in awe that we've had so many homicide's in such a short time," Garcia said. But the department is confident in their team work and their determined these crimes will be solved.

A grand jury is expected to be called in the coming weeks to try the baby death case and this weekends stabbing. We will keep you posted on the outcome.

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