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UPDATED: Denny’s Robber Admits Murder

Journal Staff Report

Moments after U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson declared him legally competent, Salvadoran immigrant Pablo De Leon Ortiz, 34, admitted to the felony murder of a woman during a 2009 armed robbery at Denny’s and to the armed robbery of Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon a week earlier.

Under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the felony murder of cook Stephanie Anderson carried a 30-year prison term and the armed robbery, five years, to be served consecutively, with deportation to follow. His formal sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

De Leon Ortiz and co-defendants Marvin Antonio Aguilar-Lopez, 24, and Francisco Melgar-Cabrera, 28, also of El Salvador, were indicted in October 2009, for robbery, felony murder and firearms offenses stemming from the armed robbery of the Denny’s at 1602 Coors NW on June 20 of that year. De Leon Ortiz and Aguilar-Lopez were taken into federal custody after the October 2009 indictment. They had been in state custody before that, but federal prosecutors adopted the case as a potential death-penalty case.

Three masked men armed with an assault rifle and revolvers entered the restaurant a little after 9 a.m. on June 20 and one fired a warning shot into the ceiling and ordered everyone to get down on the floor. A hostess ran into the kitchen, a server dropped a tray of drinks and one of the robbers followed the hostess to the kitchen, slipping on the floor as he did. A gun discharged, and Anderson, 34, who was making pancakes, was shot.

Two indictments filed in April and October 2010 added Jose “Tito” Humberto Melgar-Cabrera, 34, the brother of Francisco Melgar-Cabrera, as a defendant as an accessory after the fact for assisting his brother to avoid apprehension, and listed new charges involving another Coors Boulevard restaurant.

Jose Melgar-Cabrera pleaded guilty to an accessory charge in September and was sentenced last week to four years in prison.

Aguilar-Lopez entered a guilty plea Sept. 30 to armed robbery of Denny’s and the felony murder of Anderson. His plea agreement calls for a 40-year prison term and deportation after that is completed. His sentencing hearing is set Feb. 13.

Francisco Melgar-Cabrera is considered a fugitive.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

 

6:08am 12/15/11 — Man Gets 4 Years in Denny’s Case

Journal Staff Report

Jose “Tito” Humberto Melgar-Cabrera, 34, a Salvadoran citizen, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison for helping his brother avoid arrest after the 2009 armed robbery of an Albuquerque Denny’s Restaurant and the killing of a restaurant employee.

Melgar-Cabrera will be deported after he completes his prison sentence.

Marvin Antonio Aguilar-Lopez, 24, Pablo De Leon Ortiz, 34, and Francisco Melgar-Cabrera, 28, all citizens of El Salvador, were charged with robbery, felony murder and firearms offenses in a nine-count indictment in October 2009, stemming from the robbery on Coors NW and the killing of cook Stephanie Anderson.

Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz have been in federal custody since their arrests just over a week after the shooting.

Prosecutors added Jose Melgar-Cabrera, Francisco Melgar-Cabrera’s brother, as a defendant in April 2010, charging him as an accessory after the fact.

A 14-count second superseding indictment was filed in October 2010, which added four new robbery and firearms offenses against Aguilar-Lopez, De Leon Ortiz and Francisco Melgar-Cabrera based on the armed robbery of the Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon on Coors in June 2009.

Jose Melgar-Cabrera entered a guilty plea, admitting to helping his brother flee on the day of the Denney’s armed robbery. Francisco Melgar-Cabrera is a fugitive.

Aguilar-Lopez entered a guilty plea to the armed robbery of the Denny’s Restaurant, and the felony murder of Anderson.

His plea agreement calls for a 40-year prison term and subsequent deportation.

De Leon Ortiz is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Monday.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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10/1/11 — Man Pleads Guilty in Denny’s Murder

By Scott Sandlin/Journal Staff Writer

The shooter who killed Denny’s restaurant cook Stephanie Anderson during an armed holdup in June 2009 pleaded guilty Friday to felony murder and a related charge and agreed to a 40-year federal prison sentence.

Marvin Antonio Lopez-Aguilar, 24, appeared in a black Santa Fe County inmate jumpsuit for the brief plea hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Scott. Members of Anderson’s close-knit family, including her mother, brothers and sisters, watched from a front row of the courtroom.

“The relief is that he actually stated that he is guilty,” said Priscilla Garcia, Anderson’s mother, after the plea.

Under the agreement negotiated by federal prosecutors Louis Valencia and Roberto Ortega with Lopez-Aguilar’s attorney, Benjamin Gonzales, the defendant also pleaded guilty to robbing at gunpoint Denny’s employees Jacob Marshall and Jimmy Eaton in obstruction of interstate commerce. That count carries a five-year sentence agreed upon by the parties, while the murder charges carries 35 years. They are to be served consecutively.

Lopez-Aguilar also agreed in the plea to forfeit any claim to the arsenal of firearms and ammunition seized by police during the investigation, including assault rifles, pistols and revolvers. He agrees to waive any appeal rights and acknowledges immigration consequences, including deportation to his native El Salvador.

Sentencing will be before U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson at a date to be set.

Priscilla Garcia said her 34-year-old daughter lived across the street from her so they could visit often. She had a rambunctious, mixed-breed dog that she loved to take with her to the bosque, where she also would bicycle.

“She was just a very caring, soft spoken, friendly and honest individual,” Garcia said. “At the time of her death, she was attending school and getting ready to take a test as a pharmacy assistant.” She would go to Off Center Community Arts to draw and paint weekly, her mother said.

Anderson was also working “whatever shift they gave her” at Denny’s while finishing an internship.

Anderson loved cooking – she’d taken culinary arts classes at CNM – and was preparing pancake batter as a restaurant cook at the time she was shot.

According to a police report filed in the case, Anderson was standing by the back sink mixing the batter and couldn’t see the front cash register from her position. When three masked gunmen entered, Marshall signed to his cooks and raised his hands. Simultaneously, a hostess saw the gunmen, screamed and ran into the kitchen, knocking a waitress carrying a tray of glasses as she did.

One of the gunmen – presumably Lopez-Aguilar – ran into the kitchen, slipped on ice on the floor and his gun discharged, striking a metal plate on the kitchen door and causing the bullet to ricochet and hit Anderson as she was walking toward the other cooks, according to the supplemental police report.

Police have said the three men were members of the infamous MS-13 gang – one of the most brutal and deadly gangs in the world.

The incident wasn’t the first where armed, masked gunmen had held up a West Side restaurant. Police had been staking out potential targets, and a superseding indictment said the government at trial would seek to introduce evidence that Lopez-Aguilar and co-defendants Pablo DeLeon-Ortz and Francsico Melgar-Cabrera were involved in other armed robberies.

Melgar-Cabrera remains at large. He was driven to Phoenix by his brother, Jose “Tito” Melgar-Cabrera, and is believed to be in Mexico. Tito Melgar-Cabrera has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting and is awaiting sentencing.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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