Suspect in Mesa killing claims he and the victim had ties to drug cartel

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A suspect in a Mesa killing claims he and the victim he is accused of shooting to death both had ties to a drug cartel, police said Thursday.

Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza, 24, is facing a murder charge in connection with the killing of Carlos Osuna-Apodaca, Mesa police said.

Mesa officers responded Nov. 30 to reports of a gunshot wound about 6:45 p.m. at an apartment near Horne and Broadway Road. Inside, they found Osuna-Apodaca with fatal gunshot wounds to the head and neck, police said in a probable cause statement submitted to a court.

A witness who was in the apartment at the time of the shooting told officers Jesus Villalobos-Espinoza, who is Daniel’s brother, was visiting Osuna-Apodaca that evening, the document says. He said he briefly stepped outside the residence when he heard two shots. He came in and found Osuna-Apodaca bleeding and unresponsive, the police said.

The witness told police he saw Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza in the apartment with a handgun and said Daniel told him “to mind his own business,” according to the probable cause statement.

Jesus and Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza were identified for police by a witness through their Facebook pages. Police obtained a search warrant for their shared residence in Mesa and were able to locate a pistol matching the caliber of the weapon used to kill Osuna-Apodaca, the document said. 

Jesus told police he was at Osuna-Apodaca’s apartment when his brother Daniel showed up unexpectedly, according to the document. Jesus told police he went outside to smoke a cigarette when he heard two gunshots inside the apartment, the document said. He then fled the scene.

Police say Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza, who is identified in records as an undocumented resident, initially denied killing Osuna-Apodaca when interviewed by investigators. He later told them, however, that he worked with Osuna-Apodaca in a drug cartel as a “desert spotter” but that he left the cartel without telling anyone because he was not getting paid, according to the probable cause statement. 

He claimed Osuna-Apodaca told cartel leaders he knew where Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza was and subsequently ordered to kill Villalobos-Espinoza, the document says. Villalobos-Espinoza told police he received that information through third-parties.

He told police he shot Osuna-Apodaca because he suspected the man intended to kill him first. Daniel admitted to walking into the apartment unannounced and then shooting Osuna-Apodaca because he thought he was going to retrieve a gun, court documents say.

Police say Daniel Villalobos-Espinoza told police the gun found at his residence was the murder weapon. 

Daniel was arrested Wednesday and booked on suspicion of first-degree murder, according to the probable cause statement. 

Mesa police did not provide any further information on the cartel that Villalobos-Espinoza claimed to work for.

Reach the reporter at chelsea.curtis@arizonarepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels

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