Friday, 11 June 1999

Widow `sick with hate' wants killer executed

1998 Star photo Jesus Leonardo Sanchez


By Inger Sandal

The Arizona Daily Star

Richard Norzagaray tried to assure his wife and 8-year-old daughter he would be all right as a gunman led him from his family's South Tucson home in the middle of the night two years ago.

They never saw him again.

Within hours his body was found in a burning car near West 38th Street and Interstate 10. He had been shot three times.

``I can't resign myself or accept this. I've become sick with so much hate and it has destroyed my heart,'' his widow, Esthela Norzagaray yesterday told Judge Gilbert Veliz of Pima County Superior Court.

She wants the man convicted of first-degree murder in her husband's slaying - Jesus Leonardo Sanchez, 21, - condemned to death when he is sentenced June 21.

Sanchez maintains his innocence. An alleged accomplice, Cecil Rodriguez, is a fugitive.

``The person who did this knew (Richard Norzagaray) had so many small children - the youngest was only 1 1/2,'' said Esthela Norzagaray, who wore black and fought tears as she spoke in Spanish through a court interpreter. ``I had to sell my home because my children didn't want to live there anymore out of fear.''

The couple were married 14 years and had five children. Her three daughters gave the judge a family photo album.

Sanchez also was convicted of first-degree murder in the July 9, 1997 death of Ronald Lopez, 21, who was caught by gunfire as he fixed his car. One of his cousins yesterday read a poem in court that was written in his memory.

Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay maintains the two slayings were connected and motivated by money. In asking for the death penalty, Unklesbay also noted that a few days after the slayings police caught Sanchez violently invading a home, earning him 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors maintain that Damien Jasso, 22, hired Sanchez and Rodriguez to avenge a July 7, 1997, drug rip-off. He met the men through a friend, Eugenio ``Nino'' Norzagaray, court records show.

Jasso, who escaped a murder charge by agreeing to testify, said during Sanchez's trial last year that he wanted the men only to intimidate the man he thought had terrorized his family - Raul ``Inglewood'' Lopez.

Instead, Jasso testified, the men mistakenly killed the man's cousin, Ronald Lee Lopez, in a drive-by shooting. Lopez was hit by shrapnel and eight bullets as he crawled under a car to escape a barrage of more than 60 bullets that strafed his southside home, Unklesbay said.

Raul Lopez was killed two hours after his cousin but the case remains unsolved.

Jasso said he gave Sanchez several hundred dollars, but Sanchez demanded $5,000 saying that what he had done ``was no small thing,'' Unklesbay said. Jasso said Sanchez also bragged about how the victim twisted as the bullets hit him, the prosecutor said.

Jasso didn't pay, Unklesbay said, so Sanchez and Rodriguez kidnapped Norzagaray's uncle, Richard, three nights later to send a message. ``This was truly a senseless murder. Richard Norzagaray had no part of this. He was simply taken from his family and murdered,'' Unklesbay said of the 35-year-old horse racer.

Defense attorney Edward Nesbitt countered that the prosecution's entire case rested on the testimony of a drug dealer who escaped prison by lying about Sanchez.

Witnesses identified Sanchez only after his picture appeared in newspaper articles in which police called Sanchez a hit man and one of the county's most prolific murderers.

Sanchez knew neither victim, said Nesbitt, who told the judge other people could have wanted to kill the victims over drug debts.

Attorney Joseph St. Louis told the judge that Sanchez has strong family support. He has never held his son, St. Louis said, because his wife gave birth after his arrest. He also said Sanchez had a difficult childhood and problems with substance abuse.

Nesbitt said he wanted to prepare more information for the court - including psychological assessments - but feared it would be used against Sanchez in three pending murder cases the state ``is holding over his head.''

Pima County's chief prosecutor, Ken Peasley, has asked that charges be dropped against Sanchez until a witness is found in a September 1996 shooting that killed brothers Ramon Leon Hernandez, 43, and Cesar Leon Hernandez, 45.

Charges were also dropped in the May 17, 1997, shooting death of 19-year-old Shawn Trujillo.