An Arlington man has been sentenced to death for beheading his roommate and killing the man’s girlfriend in a gruesome 2017 double slaying.
A Tarrant County jury convicted Hector Acosta-Ojeda, 30, of capital murder Nov. 5 after deliberating for more than five hours. They handed down his sentence Wednesday.
Acosta-Ojeda, who goes by the nickname “El Cholo,” was arrested in early September 2017, several days after authorities discovered a severed head near a creek not far from AT&T Stadium.
According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, the head appeared to have been severed by “a large knife or sharp object” and was resting next to a sign that read “La Raza Se Respeta y Faltan 4” — which roughly translates to “The race must be respected and four are left.” Some Spanish speakers use the word “raza” to refer to Hispanics as a group.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that Acosta-Ojeda shot his roommate, 27-year-old Erick “Diablo” Zelaya, twice in the head while he was sleeping, then cut off his head and left it on the trail. They said the slaying was retaliation after Zelaya admitted firing a gun at Acosta-Ojeda’s former home.
Attorneys for the state also said Acosta-Ojeda fatally shot Zelaya’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Iris Chirinos.
“He pumped these people full of holes to send a message,” prosecutor Tim Rodgers said during closing arguments.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their client was the killer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
While police were investigating, they learned that a man in custody for outstanding warrants, Mariano Sanchez, said he had information about the remains.
According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, Sanchez said a man he knew as Cholo had been threatening to kill him over an allegation of stolen money.
Sanchez said Cholo called him one day and told him to come to his house in the 200 block of Burton Drive or be killed. When Sanchez arrived, he saw a dead man — someone he knew as Diablo — on the living-room floor and left because he was afraid. But Cholo called him and told him to return, he said, and when he did he saw Cholo digging a large hole in the backyard while others watched.
When police showed Sanchez a photo lineup, he identified Acosta-Ojeda as the man he knew as Cholo.
Police searched the home on Burton Drive and found a machete and blood, the affidavit says. They discovered human remains belonging to two people buried in the backyard.
The Tarrant County medical examiner identified the remains as those of Chirinos and Zelaya. Both died from multiple gunshot wounds.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that Acosta-Ojeda was a self-proclaimed hit man for a cartel and had attempted to start a drug-trafficking operation while being held in the Tarrant County jail awaiting trial.
“Acosta is not a product of a bad environment,” Rodgers said. “He is the bad element in his environment. That’s what he is and what he wants to be.”
Sanchez was arrested on a murder charge in the case but was indicted on a count of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. That case is pending.
Acosta-Ojeda faces a separate capital murder charge in connection with the fatal 2017 shooting of Triston Ray Algiene, 34, who was buried — his body cut in half — beneath a vacant Fort Worth home.