A 25-year-old man accused of murdering his girlfriend, the girlfriend’s daughter, and his landlord with a machete was convicted on all three charges of first-degree murder this week in Dallas County, Iowa, the jury taking only two hours to deliberate the young man’s fate. Carlos Hernandez-Ventura had relied on a defense of fearing for his his family’s life, attempting to convince jurors that he was the victim of his girlfriend’s estranged husband, who, the defense alleged, was a drug dealer and had orchestrated and coerced him to carry out the killings. Hernandez-Ventura faces a sentencing of life in prison for the conviction.
CBS News reported this week that Carlos Hernandez-Ventura, according to prosecutors, used a machete on October 29 to brutally attack and murder 34-year-old Lourdes Flor De Leake, 14-year-old Melany Barraza (Leake’s daughter) and 78-year-old Juan Jimenez Tejada at the home in Perry. Jiminez Tejada survived the initial attack but later died from his injuries. The Des Moines Register reported that in his opening statement, Assistant Dallas County Attorney Sean Weiser told the jury that police had walked into a “house of horrors” when they arrived at the Perry, Iowa, home that day.
The first witness called, Perry police officer Lourdes Clay, set the scene, aided by the footage from a body camera. The dark video depicted the house’s door being opened and the encounter with the body of Melany Barraza. A second officer can be heard saying,”Holy s***!” when Barraza’s body was discovered. Clay said that the teen appeared to be partially decapitated and her arm looked severed at the elbow.
Wieser told the jurors that the mother’s body was missing a hand when her body was found by officers inside a bedroom. Blood from the machete attack was found on the walls and floor.
Clay said what appeared to be the murder weapon, a machete, was found on a chair inside the house.
Carlos Hernandez-Ventura’s defense attorney Michael Adams insisted that Daniel Leake, who they believe to be a drug trafficker and money launderer, had threatened to kill Hernandez-Ventura and his family in Virginia, according to The Register. After his arrest, the suspect told police investigators that Leake had wanted his estranged wife and step-daughter killed. According to investigators, Hernandez-Ventura never wavered from his story.
However, the motive was dismissed by Dallas County prosecutors. Weiser noted that Henandez-Ventura could have, at any time, went to authorities against Leake. He did not, Weiser told the jury, “The evidence will show that the attacks… were done in a very up-close and very personal manner.”
Don Schnitker, a special agent with Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, told Wieser while on the witness stand that he had looked into Leake’s background and interviewed the man twice to attempt to find any indication of involvement with drug trafficking. Schnitker said he had uncovered no evidence of Leake being a drug dealer. During cross examination, the agent admitted to Adams that Leake could have avoided arrests and/or attention from law enforcement over the years.
Schnitker also testified he interviewed Hernandez-Ventura through an interpreter three days after the killings. The suspected murderer claimed that Leake wanted his wife and stepdaughter killed. Hernandez-Ventura told both the agent and a Perry detective that Daniel Leake laundered drug money through a car dealership. However, investigators were unable to find any connections between the husband and any automobile dealership, according to Schnitker.
In a previous report in the Des Moines Register, Hernandez-Ventura was arrested for the machete murder of his girlfriend and her daughter days later in Illinois. Having fled the crime scene, he was arrested October 30 in Morrison, Ill., after seeking aid for his cut and bloodied hand at the town’s police station. Morrison Police Chief Brian Melton said that at about 2:30 a.m., Hernandez-Ventura had knocked on the back door of the station to ask for help with a hand injury.
After finding out the man was from Iowa, Morrison police, who were unaware of the homicides in Perry, contacted Iowa law enforcement. Hernandez-Ventura was eventually connected to the killings of Barraza and Leake and arrested, Melton said.
Hernandez-Ventura is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on November 10.
[Featured Image by Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock]