This story has been reconstructed based on documents of Dallas County Courts, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and the U.S Supreme Court, as well as news stories from The Dallas Morning News, The Austin Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle and The Courthouse News Service published between August 2002 and May 2003.
Alma Alvizo ran out of her sister’s Oak Cliff home. She had been shot and was bleeding badly. She was crying for help in desperation.
A large part of her family was left behind, fatally shot: Her older sister, Cecilia Ochoa, 32; her nieces and Cecilia’s children, Crystal, 7, and 9-month-old Anahí; her younger sister, Jacqueline Saleh, 20; and the three sisters’ father, Bartolo Alvizo, 56.
All were killed that Aug. 4, 2002, by shots fired by Alma Alvizo’s brother-in-law, Abel Revilla Ochoa — Cecilia Ochoa’s husband and father of Crystal and Anahí.
Alma Alvizo, then 27, was the only survivor. She lost a kidney and spent three months in a hospital.
Abel Ochoa was born in Vicente Guerrero, a small town in the Mexican state of Durango, and came to the U.S. when he was 2. By the time he murdered his family, he was already an American citizen.
On Thursday, 17 years after murdering the five family members, Abel Ochoa is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. The punishment is to be carried out at the Huntsville prison, where the state carries out death sentences.
Barring any successful appeals, it will be the state’s second execution this year.
Oak Cliff neighbors
As on any typical Sunday, the Ochoas went to church that summer day in 2002.
Abel Ochoa had been struggling with a crack addiction for years. He had tried to quit several times without success. Drug use brought family troubles and cost him his job as a truck driver. He had been jobless for months.
His wife, Cecilia Ochoa, was a sixth-grade teacher at a private school in Dallas. The couple’s relationship was difficult, as she told her sisters.
The arguments began in 1997, when Abel Ochoa learned that before they married, Cecilia Ochoa had had a child with another man.
The Ochoas and their daughters had been living for a decade in a house on Salerno Drive in central Oak Cliff, a neighborhood with a large Latino community at the time.
The couple’s relationship continued to deteriorate. He once threatened to kill Cecilia Ochoa. Another time, just three weeks before the murders, he aimed a gun at Alma Alvizo, the sister-in-law.
Bartolo Alvizo, Cecilia Ochoa’s father, moved into the home shortly before Aug. 4, the day of the shootings. He was recovering from an leg amputation caused by diabetes.
On the fateful Sunday, Alma Alvizo and her younger sister, Jacqueline Saleh, went to visit their father at Cecilia Ochoa’s home. Nobody knew a tragedy was about to happen.
Against his own family
That afternoon, Abel Ochoa had gone 10 days without using crack. He couldn’t buy any because his wife had hid the money from him so he couldn’t use it to get high.
After church, he nagged his wife to give him money. She relented, giving him $10. On the way back home, he stopped to buy crack, his family waiting in the car while he made the purchase.
Once at home, he smoked the drug in the backyard. That’s when his wife’s sisters arrived.
After he finished smoking, he went into his bedroom without greeting anyone. He lay down in bed to watch TV. Minutes later, the craving for more crack was uncontrollable.
He wanted more, but he knew his wife wouldn’t give money to buy it. So he settled on another solution.
The Ochoas owned a 9 mm Ruger pistol that they’d bought for protection. He grabbed it and walked to the living room, where his family was gathered.
Under the influence of the crack he had just smoked, he shot his wife to death.
Then he shot Jacqueline Saleh — who was holding Abel Ochoa’s daughter Anahí in her arms — his father-in-law; and Alma Alvizo, who was severely wounded.
After running out of bullets, he reloaded in the bedroom and returned. Seeing his daughter Crystal frantically trying to escape, he fired four close-range shots into her back.
Leaving the gun on a table, he took his wife’s ATM card and drove the family’s van to a nearby shopping mall to withdraw money. He failed because he didn’t know the card’s PIN number.
Alma fled the house, begging neighbors for help. The police were called, and less than 20 minutes later, Dallas police arrested Abel Ochoa at Wynnewood Village Shopping Center, just a few blocks from the horrific scene on Salerno Drive.
‘I can’t believe I did it’
At Abel Ochoa’s murder trial, police officers testified that he was cooperative during the entire detention process. It was only while being driven to the processing center that he began asking about his family.
“Are my daughters fine?” he asked. The officers didn’t answer.
According to testimony, hours later he broke down because he didn’t understand what was happening.
“I can’t believe I did it,” he told police.
Abel Ochoa also said he couldn’t take the stress anymore and that he was tired of his life.
What happened that day, was put down in writing by Abel Ochoa himself on a piece of paper, which he handed over to police.
In Ochoa’s first court appearance, Judge of County Criminal Court No. 6, Phil Barker, set bail at $2 million. After learning a few days later that Abel Ochoa had shot his 7-year-old daughter in the back, he raised it to $5 million.
The trial started April 14, 2003, and lasted just two days. Jurors found Abel Ochoa guilty of all five murders.
On April 23, 2003, he was sentenced to death by the jury.
In his latest appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Abel Ochoa’s attorneys stressed that his trial lawyers didn’t find and present enough evidence of his difficult childhood. He has also repeatedly asked for, and been denied, funds to redo his mitigation defense, which if successful could see his sentence reduced to life without parole.
The Dallas Morning News’ research department and The Associated Press contributed to this report.