A Lakewood man was charged today with three counts of first-degree murder in the case of three men who disappeared from work and were found months later buried near a plant nursery in Kent.
King County prosecutors also charged Alberto Avila-Cardenas, 36, with three firearm enhancements in the shooting deaths of Jesus Bejar-Avila, 25, of Lakewood; Yazmani Quezada-Ortiz, 26, of Tacoma; and Cristian Alberto Rangel, 19, of University Place.
He is being held in lieu of $10 million bail and is to be arraigned May 26. If convicted as charged, Avila-Cardenas faces 75 to 95 years in prison. He also is wanted in connection with a murder and dismemberment in Mexico.
King County sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart declined to provide a motive for the slayings, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We’re still looking for the motive,” he said. “But they definitely knew each other. This was not random.”
Charging documents lay out Avila-Cardenas’ connection to the victims.
The four men worked together at Lake Union Wholesale Florist, where the three victims were last seen Dec. 12.
Some of the victims’ family members told Lakewood police that Avila-Cardenas had threatened to “get them” in the past because of a 2008 double homicide in Springbrook Park.
In that shooting, Quezada-Ortiz’s cousin was charged with killing two men over money wagered during a card game. Avila-Cardenas was shot in the ankle. The cousin later fled to Mexico and remains at large.
Lakewood police first began investigating the men’s disappearance after their families reported them missing in December. Quezada-Ortiz’s 2007 Chevrolet Silverada was found days later in Kent. It’s the same vehicle the men used to carpool to and from work.
The victims’ bodies were found in March with their hands bound in front of them with zip ties. Each had been shot in the head and buried near a plant nursery.
Detectives began looking at Avila-Cardenas after Bejar-Avila’s relative received a phone call saying Avila-Cardenas was there before quickly hanging up.
Avila-Cardenas said he was in California when his co-workers went missing but police used receipts and cell phone records to show he’d returned to Washington, according to charging documents.
A search of Avila-Cardena’s home turned up a loaded 9mm handgun in the rafters of his garage. Rangel’s blood was found inside the barrel.
Investigators said they also found Avila-Cardena’s shoe print inside Quezada-Ortiz’s vehicle and on the truck’s gas and brake pedal.
Avila-Cardenas told police he’d bought the gun after the men disappeared and that Rangel’s blood being found on it was “just bad luck,” documents state.
Avila-Cardenas was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun in that case. The charge was dismissed after a federal gun possession charge was brought in February. He’s been in federal custody since.
Lakewood police have said the victims were not involved with drugs and had no criminal records, leaving their families wondering and grieving.
“It hurts me every single time I look at his pictures,” said Rangel’s girlfriend, Getsemani Ortiz-Torres. “The only things that helps me have strength is the baby I’m going to have next month.”
She plans to name the baby Cristian.