Two men plead not guilty in Kent to triple-murder charges

Two men each pleaded not guilty Thursday to three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths of three Pierce County men whose bodies were found in March in unincorporated Kent.

Alberto Avila-Cardenas

Alberto Avila-Cardenas

Two men each pleaded not guilty Thursday to three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths of three Pierce County men whose bodies were found in March in unincorporated Kent.

Jose Alfredo Velez-Fombona, 25, of Kent, and co-defendant Alberto Avila-Cardenas, 36, of Lakewood, each appeared separately to enter pleas in front of King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Defense attorneys entered the not guilty pleas for both men.

Velez-Fombona and Avila-Cardenas remain in custody with bail set at $10 million. The murder charges include firearm enhancements. If convicted as charged, each defendant faces a sentence range of 75 to 95 years in prison.

Prosecutors claim Velez-Fombona and Avila-Cardenas are responsible for the deaths on Dec. 12 of Jesus Bejar-Avila, 25, Yazmani Quezada-Ortiz, 26 and Cristian Alberto Rangel, 19.

The bodies of the three men were found March 10 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.

The motive for the killings appears to be 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.

Detectives from the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Lakewood Police continue to investigate the case. It is possible a third man also was involved in the kidnapping and murders, according to court documents.

In court Thursday, each defendant wore a white jail jumpsuit with the words “KCJ Ultra High Security” printed on the back. Most defendants in the county jail wear red jumpsuits with only the KCJ initials.

Roberts denied a motion Wednesday by defense attorneys to ban media photographs of the faces of Velez-Fombona and Avila-Cardenas or to allow the men to wear civilian clothing. Roberts did tell the media Thursday to only photograph the men from the neck up. Velez-Fombona and Avila-Cardenas also were in handcuffs connected to a waist chain.

The two men are scheduled to return to court June 15 when a trial date could be set or when attorneys can ask for more time to prepare the case.

According to court documents, detectives believe the Kent man and at least one other man picked up Avila-Cardenas at his home the morning of Dec. 12 in Lakewood.

Cell phone records of Avila-Cardenas and Velez-Fombona show the two men and other suspect or suspects traveled Dec. 12 to the Lake Union florist shop where Avila-Bejar, Quezada-Ortiz and Rangel worked. They waited until the men got off work at about 3 p.m.

Cell phone records indicate Avila-Cardenas and Velez-Fombona traveled south, likely on Interstate 5, at around 3:30 p.m. The same records show the men arrived at about 4 p.m. in the area of the Rainier Nursery, and then leaving the area about 5:50 p.m.

The records then show Avila-Cardenas and Velez-Fombona in the area of Velez-Fombona’s Kent residence on the West Hill, just a few miles from the nursery.

Detectives served a search warrant May 12 on the residence of Velez-Fombona. They found the cell phone used in the Dec. 12 calls as well as a goldish-colored GMC Yukon bearing Oregon plates, expected to be the same vehicle a witness saw when at least two men picked up Avila-Cardenas Dec. 12 at his Lakewood home.

 


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