Anatomy of Murder

A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.

House of Witnesses (Jose Menchaca & Domonique Hernandez)

House of Witnesses (Jose Menchaca & Domonique Hernandez)

Tue, 07 Jun 2022 07:00

Body parts and a backyard bbq — two things that should never be in the same sentence, but are intertwined in this homicide. Investigators quickly know The Who, but they need to uncover The What.

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If you're looking for a new show unlike anything you've ever heard before, check out audio Chuck's latest series killed. Each episode of killed covers a story that you may have never read because it was killed before it got published. I'm Justine Harman, who some of you may know from my show OC swingers, and I'm here to bring these dead stories back to life binge killed right now to get the full story. Before we get started, we do want to give you the warning that this case contains depictions of extreme homicidal violence. He was a monster. What he did to people, to living people, was inhumane, and this was someone who was without a soul, and I don't say that lightly. All the cases I've handled in my career. This would easily be the most violent. I'm Scott Weinberger, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. Palazzi former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of Investigation Discovery's true conviction, and this is anatomy of murder. Today's story is a really important reminder of the importance of witnesses. You know, physical evidence is obviously fantastic and we've gone leaps and bounds as far as DNA and fingerprints. But, you know, as I talked to prospective jurors for many years. When you look at something like fingerprints, they can tell you that someone was there, but they can never tell you the when. So you always need people to really not only give us that information, but give us the lay of the land and fill in the gaps. Homicides do not happen in a vacuum, and like I always say, somebody knows something and that definitely applies to the case we were talking about today. Four story today I spoke with Texas prosecutor Joshua Summers, and I say that because he works all over that very large state of Texas. I spent over 6 years as a prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney's Office, and then I spent about four years as a prosecutor with the Bear County District Attorney's Office in San Antonio and almost three years as a prosecutor with the Travis County District Attorney's Office in Austin. So I've been handling cases throughout the state really my entire career. I met him when we were doing a recent episode for our television show True Conviction. And when I say that he's a prosecutor in Texas, he's a different type of prosecutor. Usually we're assigned to a specific jurisdiction, a county, or if we're federal prosecutors, part of the actual state. But he works as an assisting prosecutor. That goes to help prosecutors all throughout the state of Texas. And so it's a really great job in that, you know, I get to travel all over the great state of Texas and handle very complex and high profile murders and capital murders. Now, given the breadth of Josh's experience, we asked him what case he wanted to talk about on a OM. And without hesitation, we rolled right into a horrifying case in Bear County, San Antonio, TX. And I have to give myself up right here. I really am going to show the northeastern me, for all you Texans out there is that, you know, when I first started to talk to him and I said, OK, well, this case happened in Bexar County. I mean, there was dead silence on the phone. He's like Anna Sega. Yeah. Down here in Texas, it's. Pronounced bear, the heart of the county is San Antonio. It's the 7th largest city in the United States, so it's a massive population and it's a multicultural city. There's a large Hispanic population, and they celebrate an event called Fiesta every year, so it's a very diverse community. Let's dig into our case, which begins on October 6th, 2014, and let me paint you the picture of what happens. It's at the San Antonio Police Department headquarters, which is a large and modern municipal building, almost half a million square feet, where the public can access anything from accident reports to even go and report a crime. And on this day, a woman in her 50s walks in and informs police about a dead body. But get this, she didn't find the body, or she didn't even. See the body, and what she goes on to tell them is that someone very close to her, her ex-husband, a man by the name of Edward Garza, had come and spoken to her in confidence that he knew about a person who had been beaten to death by two people. And not only did her husband tell her that he knew about it, but that he was in the home when the murder occurred. And she was able to give investigators the name of the two killers, Daniel Lopez and Candy Dominguez. There were a lot of players in this case, and Daniel Lopez at the time was dating a girl named Candy Dominguez. You know, some people when they hear, well, wait a second. We already know who did it, so I can just turn this off here. But we know that you as a mom, listeners, you know that there's usually much more. Who is the victim? Where's the body? And is this witness who actually didn't see the murder? Could she be telling the truth or not? This case is not a whodunit. What? This case is a what happened? History and as investigators find the answers to those questions every step along the way, this case takes an unexpected turn, and each one more appalling than the last. So being told this by this woman who walked in the precincts, well, that does give police probable cause to actually go into the home to investigate further. Though house belonged to that woman whose name they were given, Candy Dominguez. She lived there with her three children and her father, Edward. She also rented a room out there. New with a warrant in hand, investigators were met at the door by Candy and her boyfriend Daniel and her dad Edward. Now standard procedure executing a warrant is to remove everyone from the House. Being that the warrant is conducted without any notice and the crime scene investigators, their job is to process the crime scene, to document it with photographs, collect any evidence. As police went through the house, they came across a couch in the master bedroom. There was a sofa next to the bed and there was just blood. All over the sofa and there was different points where blood spatter throughout the room was also noticed. The fact is that spatter indicates blood exiting from the body under pressure and as an example, gunshot wounds, blunt force trauma to the head or the body, and spatter can also reveal directionality, the direction the blood was traveling when it impacted a surface. So what that told investigators was yes, there was likely a struggle, if there was a crime at all, but as they went through the home. They found something else. They found contraband, a very large amount of narcotics that were field tested and proved to be methamphetamines. Crime Scene unit investigators continue to go through the home and they get a waft of a foul odor coming from the garage. One of the crime scene investigators described the smell and basically just said something to the effect of they just smelled like death. They entered the garage and at first glance, there was nothing to the naked eye that could indicate that a crime occurred. But jumping ahead a little bit, investigators used luminol, which is a chemical agent, that when it comes in contact with blood, the reaction gives off a phosphorus or fluorescent effect. And when they applied luminol to that back garage, it lit up blue, indicating that there must have been a significant amount of blood back there at one point. And as they start to try to figure out where is this smell coming from, it seems pretty clear and that it's coming from this really large plastic container, the type that you can buy at the big box stores that you store sports equipment or things like that, often in a garage or basement. And so they open the lid and the smell gets stronger. And inside that container, there's now a red blanket. Within the red blanket was a black trash bag. In the black trash bag another comforter. And within that, a deceased human being. This was horrific. I mean that the photos I saw were crazy and then just seen that body. I've had a lot of very violent cases and it was shocking to the conscience. And what makes this even more disturbing is that this body is only partially there. The victim's body had been partially dismembered, the limbs had been removed, and so all that really remained of this person was his head and his torso. And, you know, when I think about the cases like this that I've seen, obviously, primarily in Brooklyn, I almost just have to go, uh, oh, here we go. Because when we've seen it before, sometimes you'll find a leg somewhere else in New York City, or you'll find another body part floating in the river. Against some of the cases the hands or the head was missing, it's obvious the killer may not have wanted the victim to be ID because no chance for fingerprints or no chance of dental records and another aspect to send a message to others that the killer wanted to be feared. But they also do it for a much more, gosh, almost commonplace reason, which is because it is bigger and more obvious to move a whole human body where if they just have, and I even hate to talk like this, but it's what happens is that pieces that they can get that out and more likely to be undetected as they try to cover evidence of their crime. Seen that body, I've seen a lot of very violent cases and it was horrific. It was shocking to the conscience they had reduced this human being to just a piece of meat. And so other than the torso of what investigators found, they didn't find any other person's other body parts or remains in the home. However, it's pretty clear that this is a suspicious death or homicide at this point, and investigators can't even say for certain who this person is until they get a positive identification. So for now, this person is believed to be male and he becomes a John Doe. But that wasn't for long, based on the original story from the woman who reported the crime and what residents were talking about. They had a pretty good idea. The victim was Jose Menchaca, who is Candie's cousin. Clearly, all three of the people in the home had to be questioned, starting with candy, and when investigators sat her down, they had a plan and they were going to tell her why they were speaking to her. But they didn't tell her about anything that they'd found inside her home and they wanted to see, in a sense. Maybe would candy paint herself in a corner? Would they put her in a position to catch her in a lie? An investigator. Sat her down and they said, listen, we are looking into the investigation of the disappearance of Jose Menchaca and in turn, this woman Candy. She laughed and she said, wait a second, he's not missing, he's just probably hiding at another one of our cousins home and he just doesn't want to be found. Candy was very cold and very crass and really gave us the impression of. I don't know how to put it delicately, but she did not have a moral compass. I think what really makes it more important, what she says is the size of their home. You know, this is a 1500 square foot home. How would she not have smelt that pungent odor coming from the garage behind her house? I am extremely skeptical. Candy does go on to speak to investigators for a bit and she goes on with the story that Jose, who was her cousin, shows up with his girlfriend and they wanted to crash there, but then when they're there, the couple had a fight. And they had this disagreement because the girlfriend wanted to stay but Jose wanted to leave. And then she went on to describe a struggle between the two. Jose was on top of her, so Candy pushed Jose off of her and when he pushed her he fell and he hit his head on the bed. Jose left and there was no notable bleeding injuries from that altercation and that was the last time Candy saw Jose. But I have to say investiga, my first thought here in that goes back to my reasonable doubt of her story is that she knew there was blood in the home, she knew it was there and this is just backing her story up into the evidence. It's that admit we have to deny what you can. But again, what you're denying has to be plausible. And you know, Scott, when you were talking about the different type of blood that may be behind the patterns, well, what she's describing is a single fall to the head that would have caused a single injury. So while there may have been a little bit of spatter, if he struck his head hard enough on the ground, there's not going to be a whole lot, certainly nothing like what investigators found. And remember, part of a body was left behind. The detectives knew. Handy was lying, and it wasn't just because of the physical evidence in the house. There was crucial information that the investigator had that he didn't disclose. Just before the interview with Kenny, the detective had already spoken to a few witnesses. That's what he had in his back pocket. And what they revealed made this entire case even more tragic because it wasn't just what the witnesses said, it was who the witnesses were. Candy also had three small children who not only lived at the residence, and while they weren't there when police arrived for the search warrant, they had been there earlier and these children were 10, seven and six years old. Before detectives interviewed Candy, they received a phone call from the school and learned that each of the three kids told varying accounts of what happened at the house, but they all shared certain similarities. They had seen Jose the night before and they were ordered to go to bed, and while they were there in the other room, they heard loud noises. But they weren't sure what it was, and one of them described it as furniture moving. There were children in the room next door, and one of those children testified about hearing Jose Beg for his life. And each one of them was hearing candy, help me. Help me, candy. Remember his cousin? The children in the room next door that could hear this man being beaten, and that's just a memory that someone, especially a child, can never erase. And the next day, they had seen blood on the couch and holes in the wall, and they also saw blood on the clothing of Candie's boyfriend, Daniel Lopez. Seeing things like that occur, that's something that victimizes everyone involved in this case. These are children in their formidable years, and that to me is just a whole different level of criminal and morally reprehensible in and of itself. To believe that a child would be subjected to this level of violence and then have to repeat that story to others. All of their stories had similarities, but investigators knew that because they were children, corroboration would be paramount in this case. Armed with this chilling testimony from her own children, investigators reconstructed candy knowing her story just doesn't add up. And her reaction? She denied any involvement or knowledge of Jose's disappearance and then the detective. But the biggest bombshell you could imagine on her and they had found the body in the garage, and immediately she was ready to leave. And that interaction really just says so much. She didn't seem surprised. She didn't seem shocked. Her body language didn't show someone who was afraid or scared. She just stated that she wanted to leave at that very moment. Investigators were going to have the last word because they put the various pieces of evidence they'd already accumulated. This point and while they let her leave, then only a few hours later they arrested her. Detectives pushed on in the investigation, moving from interviewing Candy to her dad, Edward Garzer. He lived at the home and remember it was his ex-wife that said he witnessed the murder. He detailed to investigators that on the day of the murder, Jose and his girlfriend were at the house. Then Candy and her boyfriend Daniel told Edward to take the kids to the other room and he said that he, yes, he went into the other bedroom and he brought the children, but he didn't stay in there the entire time. Why? Was it curiosity or something else? Who knows? But he left, and when he left the room he heard what sounded like the guy that he knew was Jose yelling for help. And he also heard what he described as a pinging sound. Ding Ding Ding as the bat struck Jose's head. It sounded to him like an aluminum bat was hitting something over and over. And just think about it for a second, right? You could picture the wooden bat and you can picture the aluminum bat. Well, obviously aluminum bat is lighter than a wooden bat, so higher velocity blows can be delivered. Also, aluminum bats are a lot more flexible and you don't lose a lot of energy when you hit an object. Put that all together and this common piece of sports equipment can easily become an instrument of destruction and instrument of death. But then everyone on to say it was more than just himself and the children that knew. He said that there was another male that had come into the house to actually help move the body. He didn't know the man's name, but he could describe what he looked like. And then he also saw them moving baseball bats out of that master bedroom. You know, Edward had his own suspicions of what happened to the rest of Jose's remains because after the incident, Edward saw a fire burning in the backyard BBQ Pit and Daniel Lopez instructed him to keep the fire going and. He saw the meat burn up completely, and the only thing remaining were pieces of bones. And for all of you listening, you probably already have an idea what that quote UN quote meat is, and you'd be right. So now detectives are interviewing different suspects and witnesses, some at the same time, who were inside the home at the time. And they learn about additional discoveries that are being made back by crime scene investigators. And they also uncover what happened to the rest of Jose's remains. And we're going to warn you now it gets even more disturbing. And then there were some bones found in a grill in the backyard of the residence, and a lot of the remains had already been. I guess burned. This is a human being and they are clearly attempting to dispose of that person's remains. But you know, I've certainly seen people dispose of remains in different ways. I've seen them try to light them on fire and get rid of them that way. But I don't know, there's just something about the backyard BBQ that is just all the more horrific. You know, when you burn a body, if you burn it long enough and at a high enough temperature, they can make the bones brittle. You know, again, some were recovered from the BBQ pit, but some. Already just simply been reduced to ash. So what does it say about the person who would be capable of doing this? What does this say about the killer in this case? And what you will soon learn is that investigators were just beginning to scratch the surface of this case and who Daniel Lopez is. He was evil Incarnate. He was a monster. This man is a monster. And another question. Jose showed up at Kanye's house with his girlfriend, and we know what happened to Jose, but where's his girlfriend? Hi everyone, Ashley Flowers here and I have exciting news to share. My debut novel all good people here is officially out now. Our fans are blowing up our social talking about it. You do not want to be left out and the worst thing that could happen is for someone else to spoil it for you because there are some wild twists in this book. If you love true crime content, mysteries, and a grown up Nancy Drew style detective work then I have a good feeling you won't be able to put this book down. So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of all good people here now, wherever books are sold. Jose Menchaca had a girlfriend whose name was Sylvia and police were absolutely interested in hearing what she had to say about what happened to Jose back on September 30th. So they put out a bulletin looking for Sylvia and it didn't take long before she was located and brought into the precinct and according to her, this is what happened. Today and told him that she needed his help to sell some of his cosmetic products off of Craigslist and when Jose is Lord over to that residence he came with his girlfriend Sylvia Flores. But when Sylvia and Jose got over to Candie's home, they were immediately confronted by Daniel Lopez and his cousin. They were lured back to the back bedroom in the home and Daniel Lopez was waiting there with the Co actor in this case. And when Sylvia and Jose got inside, Candy and another woman blocked the doorway and then Jose's girlfriend Sylvia was forced to witness first hand right in front of her eyes, Daniel and his cousin beating Jose. And they essentially begin brutally. It was very brutal beating him with baseball bats. This was pretty savage. And afterward, he lie bleeding on the floor with his head resting against the couch. He began to scream for candy, just like the kids said they heard. This was a setup. All that the direction of Daniel Lopez, willingly or pressured by fear. The fear of Daniel Lopez. I mean, just think about how often it is that a crime happens in front of anyone else at all. And here we have multiple players. Participants, or at least people. Present for various parts. I just keep thinking of like, you know, the puppeteer that's pulling strings, or whether it's out of fear that he's just not worried that people are going to say anything at all. Because this is a lot of people in a home when an attack like this occurs. All of these people were involved in this case because of Daniel Lopez. In other words, he created a web and he was at the center of that web. In a matter of minutes, what started as one cousin visiting another just became the living nightmare for Sylvia. She had no idea what they did with those, or even what they were going to do with her. Where the people inside the room and out they started to realize that Sylvia had now become a witness candy kind of blocks off the door and other people that are present take Sylvia and tie her up and put her in the bathroom. And so Sylvia was basically kidnapped during this process. She sat there in the bathroom, helpless, tied and blindfolded. She can hear in the next room people cleaning. She stayed in the bathroom until the next day and as Sylvia was being LED. From the home, Jose was nowhere insight. So at that point, Sylvia didn't know what Daniel and others had done to Jose or to his body. But investigators were able to track down those other participants and they said exactly what they had done at the request of Daniel Lopez. After beating him with these baseball bats, Daniel Lopez and the Co actor took Jose Outback to a detached garage. He was still alive, but the school had been fractured. He was pretty severely injured and when they took him out to this back garage, Daniel Lopez pulled the trash bag over his head and his fixated him, and after that they ended up beginning to dismember him. They removed his legs and his arms and they began grilling his remains in a BBQ pit. At the residence where the murder took place. After Jose was murdered, the question then becomes what to do with Sylvia. And so Daniel had another woman come to the scene and take Sylvia away, and when investigators interviewed that person, she said she only agreed to take Sylvia because she was afraid of what Daniel would do to her or to Sylvia. And eventually she's transported to that second residence. She's blindfolded. When she's taken there, she's left tied up and at some point as law enforcement. Becomes involved. Sylvia eventually gets released. From the investigative standpoint, let's just think about Sylvia and the crucial witness she now becomes to them. Well, Sylvia was critical because she was a witness, if you will do the entire attack in that back bedroom. So she's able to identify Daniel Lopez as being the the assailant, and she's the only person inside that house that is not connected to Daniel Lopez or part of his web. You also have to think about what type of person, what type of killer could Daniel Lopez be and really, who is Daniel Lopez? I can tell you that Daniel was a member of the Mexican Mafia. The Mexican Mafia is a very large prison gang. It's been around for a very long time. It's a tier one prison gang in Texas. Despite its name, the Mexican Mafia did not originate in Mexico. It actually began in the US prisons first dating back to 1958. They are known for a wide variety of crimes, narcotics trafficking, murders, robberies, prostitution. They're just one of the largest prison gangs in the state of Texas, while they never have. Exact data is thought to have over 400 to 500 official members and over 1000 associates amongst them and the Mexican mafia. It's on the same level as the Aryan Brotherhood, which a lot of people are familiar with. With Sylvia's help and tracking everyone down at the home that was there at the time of the murder, investigators uncovered not just what happened to Jose, but more importantly, why. Jose Menchaca. He went by the street name Pee Wee. Essentially what happened was Pee Wee was involved in a drug deal that went bad with Daniel Lopez, and in the course of this drug deal that went bad, pewee stabbed and injured Daniel Lopez. Now, Mr Lopez wasn't seriously hurt. He went to the hospital, he got some stitches and he was ultimately just fine. But he was stabbed in this drug deal that went bad. So this picture starts to emerge that Jose's murder may have been Lopez getting revenge for that earlier stabbing. And you know, anyone hearing this, especially once they hear now that Jose had been involved in some narcotics dealing, you may be starting to tilt your head. And that may lead sometimes to what we all call victim shaming. And you know, everyone has always the right to their own opinions. But we're talking about homicide. No one is entitled to take another life. Whether you're religious or not, there is that commandment thou shalt not kill. And I think that's how all of us in this line of work look at all these cases, and this certainly is the majority of them, people that may be making choices or have difficulties in their own life that lead them to certain places. But that doesn't impact what we look at and the way we look at these crimes. You know, from victim to victim, while the circumstances may change within their case, investigating them remains the same and the energy you put into it remains the same, and the path to justice remains the same. So as far as how the victim is portrayed, victim is a victim. Here is how I view things as a prosecutor, and this is how I view the law. You know, under the law it is a murder if you intentionally or knowingly caused the death of an individual. And there's not a qualifier there. It doesn't say good individual or bad individual. It doesn't say good human being or bad human being. And that's because we are all entitled to equal protection of the law. No one deserves to be murdered. You know, there's a line that says you don't get to choose your victims and you don't get to choose your witnesses. Either when this case goes to trial, well, our witnesses or at least many of them are also the accomplices, too. And so you have to think about how we think about it. Well, what is that going to look like to the jury? So let me tell you this is that absolutely jurors are going to be more critical and skeptical, and they should be. And that's the first thing that I'll tell any prospective juror in a case like this. But by hearing from the inside, looking out, you sometimes get the perspective of what happened and the intimate details that you might never get if you just had from. Others that are on the outside looking in. And one of the people he involved was a man named Dennis Austin. And Dennis arguably could have been viewed as an accomplice to this, in my opinion. He was really just a bystander who got involved by Daniel Lopez. And he, in fact, witnessed not only the beating but he talked about was, you know, Daniel puts this trash bag over Jose, who's essentially man was begging for his life. And Daniel Lopez says, you know, I am your God now. And he choked him to death. But, you know, in this case, the prosecution and the detectives, they did also have statements from other people that were not involved, and that is Sylvia and the children. Even though Sylvia was blindfolded at times, she was still able to identify things that she witnessed before the blindfold was placed on her. They ultimately also searched a car that Daniel Lopez used, and it was a maroon SUV. And inside they actually found a piece of evidence that was really going to pay off. It was a receipt to Walmart and it had. Date and a timestamp of the transaction, and it was just a couple days after the murder, but before witnesses had claimed that they had burned Jose's remains. Detectives went to the local Walmart and reviewed the surveillance video, and it showed Candy and Daniel Lopez pulling up into the parking lot in that maroon SUV. At 5:20 AM on October 4th, the two entered the store, purchased lighter fluid logs and a bottle of water, and in that video you can even see. Candy paying for the transaction with a debit card. Now they have a piece of paper that shows some items that, of course, would be used to burn an object, and we know that parts of his body were burned. Here we go. Once again, Walmart security cameras to the rescue, in a sense, and it always comes down to the Walmart. It's law enforcement's best friend. So the only people that were going to be charged were the two individuals that participated in the attack as well as Candy Dominguez, who again was kind of the person that lured them over to the residence. When we look at the type of case that the prosecution had, it's strong, right? They have all different evidence from people, from physical evidence. But the hurdles in this case are really going to come down to will the jury believe them as truthful and even before we get there, will they be able to get them into court? Prosecutors needed to make a decision. They needed someone to flip and testify against Lopez, and they wanted it to be his girlfriend, Kenny Dominguez. She was a very bad person. This is a woman who lured her own cousin over so that her boyfriend could murder him, but she was really kind of the impetus or connector that put this whole thing into motion. And in this case, first of all, let me say that that deal gave her 30 years in jail. So it's much more than just a slap on the wrist. But prosecutors decided that they had to do it to really give the inside viewpoint, the connectors, if you will, that we talked about at the beginning of the podcast to fill in the blanks of all the other pieces they had. You know, there's also this thing again, a defendant never has to do anything in the courtroom during a trial. It's always up to the prosecutor. But they might put forth the defense and maybe Lopez takes the stand, you know, for all we know. And then what? We know those other people are present. What if he starts to point the finger at one of those? What if he points the finger at the person who we know, Lord Jose, into the house? And that's candy. So now they have someone on the inside to put the various pieces in perspective and lay them out. And ultimately, it's going to be up to the jury to decide. The case against Daniel Lopez for the murder of a Jose Menchaca goes to trial not once but twice has because the judge in the first trial declared a mistrial. One of the things that happened, it was discovered that Candy Dominguez had had basically like a mental health evaluation that had not been turned over to the defense. And because that discovery could arguably be considered Brady and certainly was not turned over for that reason, the judge at the time declared a mistrial. And basically Brady material is evidence that's favorable to the accused. It's really anything that the defense attorney would want to have. Either show that their client didn't commit the crime at all, or is less culpable or responsible than the prosecution is saying, or that might reduce any potential sentence. It even can go to evidence that goes against the credibility of a witness. We're required to turn over everything to the defense. Every shred of paper, any witness statements, all witness criminal history, all of those things have to be disclosed and provided to the defense. It's incredibly important part of what we do. And it causes a lot of wrangling to make sure that we get what we need, because without it a trial can go away in a mistrial very quickly. As the state gears up to try this case for a second time, a different prosecutor is assigned to the case, and that is where Josh Sommers enters. When I got involved in this case, I was actually working in the Major Crimes unit of the Bear County District Attorney's Office, so this case kind of came across my desk. There had been some hiccups with the case along the way. It was very complicated with a lot of different players, a lot of accomplice witnesses, a lot of difficulty tracking down folks to appear in court, and so I was kind of tapped to assist with it. And Anna Singer, we had an opportunity to be out in San Antonio with Josh on a different case, but it really gave us an opportunity to know him pretty well. He is a guy that clearly gets it. You know, he can kind of cut through the confusion and he can break it down into digestible way. And that is so important when we presented these cases to juries. But he also, someone that you know is giving each one of these cases his all, I mean, 110% and that is what all of these cases deserve. You know, once you get invested in a case, you know, I'm, I'm all in, and this is not a 40 hour a week job. This is not a nine to five job. You know, it's just one of those jobs where the work is never really complete until the trial is done. And Josh pours through all of the statements and the evidence, spending day and night preparing for this trial. This case was a massive case. I'd probably put it in my top five most voluminous cases, if you will, in terms of discovery and while doing that. The uncovers another piece of Daniel Lopez's past, something that had been overlooked before. It's surreal when you're working on one murder case and unbeknownst to anyone else, unbeknownst to any homicide detectives with the San Antonio Police Department, there's a whole second uninvestigated and uncharged murder case. There was another person who had been murdered. We want to give you a little bit about Josh's background because it really informs how he approaches cases and why. Josh always knew he wanted to be a prosecutor and it is definitely in his blood. My grandfather was a lawyer, a lot of people on my mom's side of the family are attorneys, and there was no greater feeling than. Working to fight for justice for a family that's lost a loved one. You know I can't change what happened. I can never give them back their loved one. But I always tell them what I can do or fight to do or work to do is make sure the right thing happens now. For him, it was a calling. He really wanted to be an advocate and he thought this was the best Rd that he could take. And I also think it helps explain why Josh was digging in Jose Manchaca's murder and uncovered now a second homicide. He had to pursue it to the fullest extent. We discovered a second, previously unknown homicide. When prepping this case for trial, the team of prosecutors and investigators were pouring through the reports. There were a few statements from individuals that talked about another homicide. There was a female inmate that once dated Daniel Lopez and suspected that he had killed a girl known as Nikki G because she hadn't been seen or heard from for months. And there are a couple people inside of Lopez's circle that knew exactly who she was, and they were able to give more information about Nikki G that she had. And a girl who he had dated before Candy Dominguez and her murder had occurred months before. Jose's in Pleasanton, TX, Pleasanton's a pretty rural area. It's a very, you know, small town just South of San Antonio. Law enforcement out there, they're great at what they do, but they just don't have the resources that an agency like the San Antonio Police Department does. But there was a wrinkle. There was no direct information on who Nikki G really was because the name Nikki G. As you would suspect, was only a nickname. However, no one found Nikki's body, and Daniel Lopez was never charged with her murder. So the question is, who is Nikki G? Investigators and Joshua Summers were able to find out that Nikki G was actually Dominique Hernandez, a young mother with three children. I think she was just a kind, caring person. She clearly had a loving family. And back in June 2014, she was living with her dad until one day she left the house and just never returned. She left her clothes, her bed, and all of her items inside the house, so it was obvious to family and friends that she didn't run away or walk away. On June the 23rd of 2014, Debbie Hernandez, who is Nikki's mom, after a couple of days contacted law enforcement to report that Nikki G had gone to visit with Daniel Lopez. And she had not returned. While she was with Daniel Lopez, Nikki G had actually contacted her mother, Debbie Hernandez, and was basically conveyed to her that Daniel was holding her against her will and that she didn't want to be with him, but she couldn't get away from him. And according to a friend of Lopez, Nikki and Lopez had a volatile relationship and he had witnessed Lopez hit Nikki. And then one day over the summer, in July of 2014, the friend heard that something had happened to Nikki. What exactly, he didn't know. But a couple of hours later, Lopez showed up at his house and was carrying a body wrapped in a sheet in plastic. The friend never exactly saw whose body it was, but he believed it was Nikki. Lopez brought the body into the house and placed the body in a freezer that was located in the garage. He stated Lopez kept the body in the freezer for a couple of days and then cut up the body in the garage and anasarca. This is starting to become a very familiar story, an MO so to speak, of how Lopez was acting and the friend also said that. Later on, Lopez had burned a couple of pieces of the body in that backyard. I mean, think about it, dismemberment. In a garage, human beings that he has killed, you almost can't even say the words. But backyard BBQ strikes again. You know, it's just the similarities. As you said, Scott. Just keep piling on. I know that one of the things she talked about when they were grilling the remains is that flash or fat from her body, like dripping in the grill. It's shocking. Words cannot capture the visual image and the feeling you get when you hear about this, it's just disturbing. And the fire got so out of control that the fire department was called to the location. And the fire department came out and we were able to pull those records and track down the firefighters that were dispatched out there. And at the time they didn't know that what they were responding to was a body being burned. And when you think about it, you're like, Oh my gosh, how did they not know? But why would anyone know? I mean, backyard barbecues happen every day all around us, and we never think twice. You know, when authorities are heading over there, they just think that there is a fire that maybe has gotten a bit out of control, and they would never have thought. And they had no reason at that point to think that Lopez was trying to get rid of a body. And I have a copy of the fire departments incident report from that day, and it actually talks about the fact that when they pulled up to the home, they did notice things burning within that. Fire pit. They told the group that was there, including Lopez, to use a garden hose to put it out. It's not their fault. I understand. You know why they did what they did, just getting the information and leaving. But, man, if they had gone back there and found that to me, that just would have been crazy. But they corroborated everything all those witnesses said with respect to that second murder case. And afterwards, Lopez went on to tell his friend that he got rid of everything from the BBQ pit to each and every piece associated with that crime, and that he spread the ashes, Nicky's ashes, at various places around town. I was in dismay, I was in dismay, and to this day I've still maintained contact with Nikki's mother, and I think her mother was so appreciative that we were willing to take a look at that case. And the similarities between the two murders would continue into the investigation of Nikki's murder. And once again, it would pay big dividends. Some of the participants and witnesses of Jose's murder also knew about Nikki's murder, and another person told authorities that she actually was there when Nikki died. A direct eyewitness. This is what she had to say. According to the witnesses testimony, Nikki G was laying on a sofa and Daniel Lopez had a firearm out. She was on the front porch when she heard the gunshot from inside the apartment. Whether he intentionally pulled the trigger or recklessly pulled the trigger, he discharged that weapon and shot and killed Nikki G, now in Texas. Either way, he would still be responsible for her death. She ran inside and now saw Lopez standing over Nikki with a pistol in his hand and that Nikki is laying there dead on the couch. Lopez had shot Nikki in the neck and there was blood on the sofa. She didn't know why Lopez had done this or if this was an accident or not, but he did. Today, and this is pretty telling, she knew too much. Yeah. One of the things we learned from the witness we had located was that as Daniel Lopez was decapitating and dismembering Nikki's body, the spec projectile was found. Fell on the floor. He picked it up and he gave it to this witness to hold on to for him, and he planned to make a necklace out of this later. I have a couple of words and a singer for this. Cold blooded, sick, twisted. Do I need to go on? No, I mean there is just something. So McCabe about wanting to keep the instrumentality of this homicide and place it on a string around your neck as a trophy. I mean, it really tells us everything we need to know about Daniel Lopez. But even though all of the evidence and Nikki's body had been burned to ash, there was still an opportunity for investigators to collect forensic evidence. Off of that sofa, remember? It had Nikki's blood. Lopez cleaned the blood off of the sofa, but he didn't get rid of it in the trailer in Pleasanton. The furniture in that trailer was rental furniture the sofa was rent to own in a couple days after Nikki's murder, the company repossessed that sofa. So at that point, investigators are going to follow the sofas path. They're going to go to the company, which they did to try to get the sofa back. But it had been months and by the time they got to it, as you would hope. After a company gets a rental sofa back, they had cleaned it and now resold it. Detectives then got a subpoena and found the new owner of the couch. Inside the cushion cover, there was a large red tinted stain that looked just like blood. What if you're the recipient of that sofa? Because they clearly cleaned the outside of the cushions, but all it took was for them to unzip it and take that cover off. And now there was blood all over the cushion. They took a a Swatch of a sofa there, cutting of the fabric, and submitted it for DNA testing. Police used DNA from both Dominique's mom and dad to compare it to the victim, and it showed that the DNA sample from the couch was at least 141 trillion. That's with a T times more likely to be their biological child than someone unrelated. Nikki G is what I would call a truly innocent victim who in no way had been involved in any sort of conduct to motivate the killer to murder her. Now let's just take a step back and look at the big picture of this case almost from up in the clouds. Because there is a a serendipity, if you will, about it. To me, is that if someone hadn't come forward on Josef's homicide, that investigators may likely have never uncovered or gotten the answers about Nikki's death. So that this young woman, this mom of three, would have remained missing with no answers, maybe ever, for her family. Her children would have never known. Did she leave them? Did she just walk away? Or did something else happen and now they were getting those answers? But you know, Scott, there's also this flip side, which really isn't as pretty, which is that of investigators had latched onto Nikki's murder investigation initially, and someone had come forward back then. Then that just might have prevented the next homicide and saved Jose Menchaca's life. I would like to think that if the firefighters had gone back there to take a look, I'm sure it would have just been completely shocking what they would have seen a body being burned, and obviously they would have contacted the police hopefully. But this might have prevented or or might have stopped that other murder from happening because Daniel Lopez would undoubtedly have been arrested for causing Nikki's death. You know as well as I do the what ifs never really work in these type of investigations. You put your nose to the grindstone. You do the best you can do when everything that's presented to you. And, you know, if we had a crystal ball, a lot of cases would be solved, especially the ones that remain unsolved today. What did happen in this case, factually was that in June 2018, Daniel Lopez went to trial again, now the second time, for the murder of Jose Menchaca. Without a doubt, the hardest part was securing all the witnesses for trial, making sure they were being truthful in their testimony, making sure that we had all of the information in our possession and were able to provide all of the information to the jury. He had a witness list full of accomplices who were not cooperative. He had children, you know, he had. The list goes on and on about the hurdles. Even though Lopez was facing murder charges and was incarcerated, he was still part of a dangerous and violent gang, with members still on the street, likely able to communicate with them in something. I'm sure that was on the mind of every eyewitness who was preparing to testify against him. A man who killed another in retaliation and also killed his girlfriend because she knew too much. If he was acquitted or released, even within years, imagine what he would do to the person who tried to put him in prison. No, say what you will about Dennis Austin and his role in this, but I do sincerely believe that Dennis must have been absolutely terrified. You know the obvious arguments by the defense that they chose to make them or that you cannot trust these people that are involved. They're just out to help themselves. They'll say whatever it takes to get out from under what they've done. That was one of the main defenses throughout this case is that, you know, all these people were willing to say whatever it took to avoid being prosecuted themselves. After the two week trial, Daniel Lopez was found guilty of murder, a decision that brought both a vexed and violent reaction. Trying to think how to put this, I guess freaked out and became very aggressive with law enforcement around him. He had to be restrained and they had to take him to the holdover just to make sure everyone was safe and that no one was hurt. This was a dangerous person, without a doubt. So while he's been found guilty at this point, there's now a second phase of the trial in Texas called the sentencing phase. In Texas we have a bifurcated trial system. So in Texas we have the guilt innocence phase and then we have the punishment phase, which is really like a whole second separate. Trial. It's in this phase of the process where Nikki's case comes to play, and I think I'm sure listeners will want to know how the decision really was made not to bring Lopez to trial for her murder. And quite honestly, I don't know that there is any good answer because when I look at it again from afar without having all the pieces in front of me, it seems like they had enough. And Josh certainly thought they had enough to present that in court in the sentencing phase that it should be taken into account. Before the judge passed sentence. But you know, again, unless we're actually there, we don't know if there were hurdles they had that they just could not overcome going into court or witnesses that they just thought they would never get on the stand. But when I look at this, I really do look at the bright line As for Nikki's family, that they did get the answers and they watched it all presented in court, in a public forum, while he was being held accountable, even it was for another person's death. We put on all the testimony and the evidence surrounding her death in the punishment phase of Daniel Lopez's murder of Jose Menchaca. Daniel Lopez was sentenced to life in prison. There was another person who was also charged with Jose's murder. Together with Lopez, he was tried at a separate trial at a later time. That trial resulted in acquittal, and that is why we're not giving you his name. And he was referred to in the beginning as the Co actor. The greatest reward in prosecuting the case is when you turn around and you see that family and you get that hug, and they thank you for all you've done to fight and be an advocate for their loved one. They lost this entire case from start to finish. Everything I learned about this man was just more brutal and more savage than anything I've seen. And this entire thing. It was like a horror movie. That's what it felt like in learning about these two murders. This case obviously tragic. It's also just interesting to me in various ways. We have two main victims, but it also leads me to look at all the other ancillary victims that are caught up in the aftermath or wake of these crimes. This horrific wake of senseless violence changed forever the lives of innocent people who were forced to witness it. Sylvia, the three young children as an example. The people that were present during the crimes and were pulled into it part and parcel because of fear and it really goes to the very long arms, the far fetching reach of homicide. TuneIn next week for another new episode of Anatomy of Murder Anatomy of Murder is an audio Chuck original produced and created by Weinberger Media and for SETI Media. Ashley Flowers and Summit David are executive producers. So what do you think, Chuck, do you approve? Where?