Israel Lomeli, arrested last year for the 1998 slaying of a Phoenix teenager, has received probation and will be released from jail in March.
Lomeli's high-publicity March 2013 arrest marked the end of tragic saga for the family of victim Pete Cadriel, who disappeared without a trace in 1998. The missing-persons case was solved partially in 2009 after police matched DNA from an unidentified body to Cadriel, and a new criminal investigation began that later led to Lomeli.
Police speculated publicly that an argument over burglarized items caused Lomeli, who was 16 at the time, to kill his 17-year-old friend.
But Lomeli now says the fatal shooting resulted from "horse play" with a shotgun.
Prosecutors with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office initially filed a direct complaint against Lomeli on charges of second-degree murder and possession of methamphetamine. But a new plea deal was tailored in November following a grand jury indictment on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
On December 20, Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield sentenced Lomeli to one year of probation, with the condition that he serve a year in county jail. With credit for the time he's served since his arrest, Lomeli will be released from jail on March 20, court records state.
In a news conference held by police following Lomeli's arrest, Cadriel's family spoke of their heartache in not knowing what had happened to the teen. Pictures and information were posted on missing-persons websites describing how he was last seen on July 17, 1998, in Phoenix. His sister kept in touch with Lomeli over the years, having no clue he was responsible for Cadriel's disappearance and murder, according to an article in the Arizona Republic:
"[Lomeli] would smile in my face and say, 'One day we're going to find him,' like he was my true friend," Ruth Santos said.
Advances in DNA technology allowed police to determine in 2009 that a decomposed corpse found in an alley behind the Brunswick bowling alley at 7241 West Indian School actually was the missing teen, Pete Cadriel. Police later interviewed witnesses who recalled seeing Lomeli performing an unusual scrubbing of the floor of his bedroom, which actually was the garage of the home. Another witness said he'd helped move a garbage can with Lomeli and that Lomeli had told him at the time that it contained Cadriel's body.
Police discovered that Lomeli, Cadriel, and other teens were part of a group of good friends who burglarized a home in July 1998. Investigators' theory was that Lomeli got into a squabble with Cadriel while the two were by themselves at Lomeli's house, leading to the fatal shotgun blast.
The week of Lomeli's March 2013 arrest, police served a search warrant on the suspect's former residence and found Cadriel's blood.
According to Lomeli, who's 33 this month, the shooting was a tragic accident.
Lomeli's family had allowed the youth to make the converted garage his separate home, and he could come and go as he pleased. He often skipped school and hung out with his friends in the room, getting drunk or high. Several times during these "sessions," according to a sentencing memorandum, the teens "would play with an old shotgun and point it at each other . . . Nobody ever knew that the shotgun was actually loaded."
Lomeli, while in the garage "during horse play with friends and after partying [drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana], pointed a shotgun at his friend, Pete Cadriel . . . and the gun inadvertently went off, killing Pete," records state.
The teen grew "scared" and made bad choices, admits Lomeli's lawyer, Richard Gaxiola. "Unfortunately, with that immature mindset, he did an irrational thing . . . He didn't talk to authorities or anyone, for that matter, to discuss it."
He (and, it seems, the buddy who helped Lomeli move the body) knew what Cadriel's family was going through as they sought information about their missing relative. Lomeli kept his secret out of fear of the consequences, Gaxiola says.
While with his lawyer in jail this year, Lomeli was asked by a probation officer how he could let the family believe their son was "missing." Lomeli answered, "I put it in the back of my mind and tried to forget about it. It was too much for me to deal with emotionally," says Gaxiola.
Lomeli also did not come forward after learning that Cadriel's body had been ID'd in 2009.
Overlooking these moral shortcomings, he's been leading the life of a regular guy since killing his friend. He has no adult criminal record. He's had "stable employment for the past several years working for UPS and Danny's Car Wash as a facilities manager," records state. He's divorced with five children he shares with his ex-wife, and he's current on his child support. He's got a fiancée and family members who love him, records state.
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The cops issued the following statement today about the outcome in the case:
"The Phoenix Police Department is extremely proud of the work Homicide Detectives did in this case in identifying the individual responsible for this crime. Though it took several years to identify a suspect, detectives never gave up which ultimately resulted in an arrest. The responsibility of any law enforcement agency is to make an arrest based on probable cause. We have complete confidence in the judicial process and leave that process to those who prosecute criminal cases."
We're waiting on a possible call back from the family, and we'll let you know if we hear from them.