Lakewood man charged with murders of three Pierce County men shot near Kent

King County prosecutors Thursday charged a 36-year-old Lakewood man with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths of the three Pierce County men whose bodies were found March 10 at a plant nursery in unincorporated Kent.

King County prosecutors Thursday charged a 36-year-old Lakewood man with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths of the three Pierce County men whose bodies were found March 10 at a plant nursery in unincorporated Kent.

Alberto Avila-Cardenas is currently in federal custody on charges unrelated to the killings, according to a King County Sheriff’s Office media release. His bail has been set at $10 million.

“The defendant’s actions, the kidnapping and premeditated and intentional murder of three men, followed by the disposal of their bodies, demonstrate that he presents an extreme danger to the community,” wrote Scott O’Toole, King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney, in charging documents.

Avila-Cardenas is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges at 9 a.m. May 26 at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center, courtroom GA. Each murder charge includes a firearm enhancement. If convicted as charged, the sentence range is 75 to 95 years in prison.

The bodies of the three men were found by an employee of Rainier Nursery near the West Valley Highway, in the 26200 block of 65th Avenue South. The three men had been shot in the head and then buried. Their hands were bound.

The men are Jesus Avila-Bejar, 25; Yazmani Quezada-Ortiz, 26; and Cristian Rangel, 19. The men lived in Lakewood and Tacoma.

Avila-Cardenas worked with at least two of the men at a Lake Union florist shop in Seattle. The motive for the killings appears to connected with a shooting in Lakewood that resulted in the death of two people and a foot injury to Avila-Cardenas, according to charging papers. It is believed that a cousin of Quezada-Ortiz may have been the shooter in the incident.

The three men were last seen by their families on Dec. 12 when they left their homes in Pierce County to go to work at a Lake Union florist shop. On Dec. 14, their truck was found abandoned at a Kent apartment complex in the 24200 block of 62nd Way South.

Initially, the Lakewood Police investigated the disappearance of the three men, but the Sheriff’s Office became involved when the bodies were found in unincorporated King County. Since then it has been a joint investigation with Lakewood Police.

In the course of Lakewood’s investigation, Avila-Cardenas came to the attention of the detectives and was interviewed.

Then on Dec. 23, Lakewood detectives obtained a search warrant for Avila-Cardenas’ vehicle and his residence. During a search of the house they found a 9mm semi-automatic gun hidden in the rafters of the garage.

That led to Avila-Cardenas’ arrest for Unlawful Possession of a Handgun in Pierce County. But on Feb. 15, those charges were dropped when the man was indicted by a federal grand jury on weapon charges related to that handgun and remanded to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac where he remains until murder charges are filed and he is transported to a King County jail.

DNA evidence found on the gun seized during the search was linked to one of the three victims. In addition, fired cartridge cases from that gun were found at the murder scene.

Detectives believe Avila-Cardenas kidnapped the three men and took them to the nursery where he shot and killed them. Detectives examined the truck found at the Kent apartment complex and found shoe prints consistent with all three victims as well as shoe prints consistent with Avila-Cardenas’ shoes on the gas and brake pedal. Lakewood Police had seized shoes worn by Avila-Cardenas when they served a search warrant on his house Dec. 23.

Detectives also received cell tower information in April that placed a cell phone used by Avila-Cardenas in the vicinity of the Lake Union florist shop on Dec. 12 as well as the area of the Rainier Nursery later that day and where the abandoned truck was found.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Thursday’s charging decision was the result of the hard work and persistence by detectives with the Lakewood Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office.

“The Lakewood Police Department put extraordinary effort into this case when it was just a missing persons report,” Satterberg said in a King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office media release, “and the Sheriff’s Office was able to use that work to swiftly build a case against the defendant once the victims’ bodies were found.

“This level of violence cannot be tolerated in any community and the dogged police work by both agencies reflects a commitment to that principle.”

The Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation and additional and amended charges are possible.


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