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Fugitive in Denny’s shooting to be extradited

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El Salvadoran news organizations are reporting that Francisco Melgar-Cabrera, 30, was arrested on an extradition warrant Saturday for his role in the 2009 shooting death of Stephanie Anderson, a cook at a West Side Denny’s restaurant.

Melgar-Cabrera and two accomplices were charged in federal court with the 34-year-old Anderson’s killing during a robbery of the restaurant, and the U.S. Department of Justice has sought his arrest and extradition for several years.

An extradition warrant for Melgar-Cabrera’s arrest was issued in mid-May after U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, called for an easing of requirements for extradition warrants to help combat transnational organized crime.

The El Salvador Supreme Court previously had denied 12 U.S. extradition arrest warrants prior to May, including one for Melgar-Cabrera.

The Journal reported in early May that federal agents in the United States were aware of Melgar-Cabrera’s movements in El Salvador and had tracked his movements for several years.

Melgar-Cabrera and his alleged accomplices in Anderson’s killing and the robbery initially were identified as members of the notorious MS-13 gang with roots in El Salvador.

Officials later confirmed that none of the three suspects was affiliated with the gang.

Department of Justice officials declined comment on reports of Melgar-Cabrera’s arrest, but several people in Albuquerque familiar with the investigation confirmed that a special anti-gang unit of the El Salvadoran police arrested him Saturday night on a bus in a small village outside San Salvador.

News accounts from El Salvador report that he will now go through the standard extradition procedure in a local court and must be approved by that country’s Supreme Court.

U.S. officials apparently put a cap of 40 years on the federal prison sentence Melgar-Cabrera faces if he is returned to this country. He originally faced a possible death sentence or life in prison.

El Salvador doesn’t extradite people if they face the death penalty or a prison sentence of 70 years or more.

Lucky escape

On the morning of June 20, 2009, Melgar-Cabrera and two accomplices, Marvin Aguilar-Lopez, 26, and Pablo De Leon Ortiz, 34, stormed into the crowded West Side Denny’s on Coors NW in an attempt to rob the business.

The three men were suspected of a series of restaurant robberies in the weeks prior to the robbery attempt at Denny’s.

In the resulting confusion, an employee dropped a tray and one of the robbers slipped on the ice on the floor while chasing another employee. His gun went off and Anderson was killed by a ricocheting bullet.

All three men had previously been deported and re-entered the country illegally.

Aguilar-Lopez and Ortiz were arrested in Albuquerque in the days following the robbery.

Aguilar-Lopez was sentenced to 40 years in prison and Ortiz received a 35-year sentence. Both men pleaded guilty and will face deportation after they serve their sentences.

Melgar-Cabrera’s older brother, Jose, was sentenced to four years in prison for helping Francisco avoid arrest after the robbery. Jose Melgar-Cabrera wasn’t a suspect in any of the other crimes connected to the group.

Jose Melgar-Cabrera drove Francisco to Phoenix, escaping police by minutes when they swooped down on Francisco’s West Side home.

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