WESLACO — Three men are facing murder charges in connection with the shooting and death of a prominent Weslaco doctor here last November.
Weslaco Police Chief Joel Rivera announced the arrests of the two teenagers and a 31-year-old man during a news conference Friday morning.
Joel Ismael Gonzalez, 17, was arrested at his Alamo home on Jan. 3. Josue Benavides Torres, 31, was arrested at the U.S. Probation Office in McAllen on Jan. 7, and Luis Lopez Valenzuela, 19, was arrested in McAllen on Jan. 8.
All three men are accused in the murder of Dr. John Jesus Dominguez on Nov. 7, 2019 and are currently being held at the Hidalgo County jail on $1 million bonds.
According to information obtained by The Crier, the doctor’s death came as a result of a kidnap and ransom plot gone wrong.
During the news conference, Rivera said Dominguez had confided in a “curandero” — whom the chief characterized as a “black magic doctor” — and “disclosed certain facts to him that the curandero… relayed to our initial suspects,” Rivera said.
Those facts involved information that the doctor was under pressure from people who were trying to blackmail him, the chief later told The Crier. “The doctor was consulting with a curandero and he confided in him certain things,” Rivera said.
“He was being blackmailed, but he was also being scammed by several people,” he said.
The curandero allegedly shared that information to Benavides Torres, with whom he had a connection. He “relayed the vulnerability to these guys and they attempted to kidnap him and extort him for money, and the kidnapping turned into a homicide,” Rivera said.
Dominguez was shot in his vehicle as he was attempting to leave a parking lot on Utah Avenue in Weslaco. Police later released surveillance footage of the shooting as they searched for leads in the two-month long investigation.
The video shows Dominguez reversing his white sedan out of a covered parking space, while a dark-colored sedan in an aisle of parked cars behind the doctor begins to move into position. As the doctor begins to move his car forward, the dark car veers in front of him, and a male emerges from the passenger side of the vehicle.
The male appears to be holding a gun as he moves to open the front passenger door of the doctor’s car. When he finds it locked, he begins pounding on the window, before walking around to the driver’s side with the weapon aimed as the doctor attempts to flee.
Rivera later confirmed that Dominguez sustained a single, non-life threatening gunshot wound to the left leg from a revolver.
Dominguez was able to drive out of the parking lot before crashing into another vehicle on Business 83. It was the collision which ultimately caused his death, Rivera said.
Authorities believe 19-year-old Valenzuela to be the driver and 17-year-old Gonzalez, who is in the country illegally, to be the shooter. Gonzalez is also facing a separate first degree felony charge of possession of a controlled substance after authorities discovered nearly 1 kilo of crystal meth. He was issued a $300,000 bond for that charge.
Benavides Torres — who is also in the country illegally — was not in the vehicle during the shooting, Rivera said during the news conference, adding, “We believe him to be the mastermind of the entire plot.”
Investigators had been making little headway in the homicide investigation. Dominguez’s prominence in the community — with numerous friends, family and business acquaintances, as well as patients — made for a large net to cast for clues.
As leads dead-ended, investigators released the surveillance footage and simultaneously reached out to other local, county, state and federal law enforcement partners. Finally, a tip from the Runnels County Sheriff’s Department in west Texas that at first seemed unlikely ultimately became the key to cracking the case.
“A very alert deputy sheriff over there recognized the vehicle … allegedly used in a home invasion and made contact with us,” Rivera said.
The chief thanked Runnels County law enforcement, as well as the FBI, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers and numerous other agencies for their help with the investigation.
Rivera said his department still has a few more things to “button up” before handing the case off to the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, including the potential arrest of one more person. That person won’t be facing a murder charge, he said.
The murder charges against the three men, however, may be upgraded to capital crimes. Rivera said he’s leaving that decision up to the DA and the grand jury. “We’re gonna allow the grand jury to decide that. Once we button up everything that we have to do here, we will submit it to the district attorney’s office and we will allow justice to take its course,” Rivera said.