Second suspect charged in connection with March fatal stabbing

Southport Drive Homicide Memorial

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police have charged a second suspect in connection with the stabbing death of a man at a south Austin home in March.

Leroy Garza, 45, faces first-degree felony murder and first-degree felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after the March 24 incident that left 34-year-old Benito Luna-Vargas dead.

In the early hours of March 24, Austin police received multiple 911 calls reporting a stabbing at the 1200 block of Southport Drive.

Luna-Vargas was found at the scene and taken to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center where he was pronounced dead just after 1 a.m. The Travis County Medical Examiner determined the manner of death was a homicide.

Austin police say Luna-Vargas’ brother was also assaulted at the same time and was taken to a hospital to have his head and face looked at after he’d been “punched multiple times,” according to an affidavit filed in court.

Luna-Vargas’ brother told police he was sitting on a chair in front of his apartment when he was approached by three suspects, a heavyset Hispanic man in his 50s, a heavyset Hispanic woman in her 20s and a thin Hispanic woman in her 20s. According to the brother, the man tried to stab him but he pushed away to avoid the knife. He said he lost consciousness for a couple of minutes but woke up to find his brother bleeding out inside the apartment.

One of the women allegedly grabbed Luna-Vargas’ brother and held him down while the man began punching him. He said the man pulled out a six to eight-inch silver blade and told him to give him money. The suspect then allegedly took the brother’s wallet and car keys from his pocket before going into the apartment.

One of Luna-Vargas’ roommates told police he was asleep in the living room when he woke up to a woman asking where “Bebe” was and saying
“Y’all sent Bebe to attack me.” When he was asked who “Bebe” was, the roommate told police she was an ex-girlfriend of Luna-Vargas’ brother.

The roommate said Luna-Vargas was sitting in the living room on a recliner. He said the woman called for the other two suspects to come inside and pointed out Luna-Vargas. According to the roommate, the male suspect asked Luna-Vargas “why did y’all jump my sister?” and began punching him. He said the male suspect then pulled out a knife and stabbed Luna-Vargas.

Leroy Garza mugshot (Photo courtesy Austin Police)

The brother told police he’d lived at his apartment for six years and frequently saw one of the female suspects, he called “Jessica,” when she visited family members who lived in the same complex. Through investigations, police came to believe the suspect was 38-year-old Jessica Romero and Luna-Vargas’ brother also identified her in a photo lineup. Romero was arrested one day after the incident on charges of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.

Luna-Vargas’ brother’s ex-girlfriend “Bebe” came to the hospital to check on him and police also questioned her. She claimed she’d had a fight with Romero two months earlier because Romero would prostitute herself to Luna-Vargas’ roommates. She said there was tension between Luna-Vargas and Romero.

On the same day as the stabbing, police received a call from Romero’s ex-husband. He said he’d received a call from Romero and she told him that she, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, 45-year-old Leroy Garza, were on Southport Drive looking for drugs. Romero allegedly told her ex-husband that the group saw a man who she claimed assaulted her so Garza attacked him. He also said he received a second call from Romero’s sister who echoed what Romero had already told him.

According to the arrest affidavit, while Romero was being held in the Travis County Jail, she made a call to her son. When he asked her what happened she said, “they were trying to (expletive) rape me,” and “he actually helped.” When probed on who “he” was, she responded, “Leroy.”

Just three days after the murder, Garza was arrested on unrelated drug possession charges in Williamson County. He was sentenced to three years in prison. When Austin police tried to question Garza in jail about the murder, he asked for a lawyer.

In April, police submitted several items found at the scene for DNA testing. Two months later, DNA test results matched Garza to a bloody shirt that Luna-Vargas was wearing the night he died.

Garza was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.

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