A Colorado fugitive was charged Friday with capital homicide in connection with the shooting death of a Circle K clerk on Jan. 23.
Ernest Gabriel Hernandez, 27, could receive the death penalty if he is found guilty of killing Tod J. Menuey, 26, of Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake County attorney's office alleges that he killed Menuey during a robbery to prevent Menuey from testifying against him.Hernandez was also charged with aggravated robbery Friday in 3rd Circuit Court.
A tip from a newspaper reader led police to Hernandez's west-side apartment early Sunday. A video camera photographed Hernandez while he was in the store just before the homicide. The Deseret News and other media published the photograph, which resulted in nearly 100 calls to investigators.
The video shows Hernandez inside the store at 1692 W. North Temple with a styrofoam cup in his hand. He then leaves the camera view and the tape shows Menuey, wearing a distinctive Circle K smock, step away from the camera and out of view.
Approximately two minutes later, Hernandez approaches the counter while wearing Menuey's smock, according to documents filed in 3rd Circuit Court. He is then seen opening the cash register and appears to remove currency from the till.
After opening a second till, the defendant appears to kneel down by a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" video display and take something. He then leaves the store. The next person to appear on the video is a customer who enters the store about 10 minutes later.
Police investigators said the customer selected some items to purchase and went looking for the clerk when he didn't show up. He discovered Menuey on the floor of the bathroom, dialed 911 and then tried to perform first aid.
Menuey died about three hours later at LDS Hospital. A state medical examiner determined that Menuey died from a gunshot wound to the head. Police believe the robber ordered the victim to kneel down and then shot him execution style in the head.
Circle K management informed investigators that all the currency from both cash registers in the store was missing as well as a video movie. Court documents state that Hernandez phoned his sister the day of the homicide and told her he had a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" video for her kids. Three days later, he gave them the video.
The documents further state that a fingerprint from Hernandez was found on a foam coffee cup found in the Circle K store the morning Menuey was shot.
The owner of a pawn shop told investigators he sold a .38 caliber revolver to a female friend of Hernandez on Jan. 17, 1991, and said Hernandez was with her when she bought it. The woman later told detectives she had purchased the gun for Hernandez and had given it to him.
The medical examiner said the bullet that killed Menuey was fired from a .38 caliber or similar caliber weapon, according to the court documents.
Hernandez was arrested about 2:30 a.m. Sunday at his apartment at 217 S. Foss St. (1530 West). Officers found amphetamines on him when he was arrested, and he was later charged with possession of a controlled substance. He is currently being held in the Salt Lake County Jail without bail.
Salt Lake Police Lt. Jim Bell said Hernandez had shaved, cut his hair and "changed his appearance drastically" since the time his photograph appeared in newspapers and on television.
He escaped from a Colorado prison in June and was arrested two months later in Salt Lake City for aggravated assault. Police did not know he was an escapee then because he gave jail officials a false name.