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Visalia Police Dept. makes arrest in cold case

Visalia Police Dept. makes arrest in cold case

@TheSunGazette

visalia – Twenty-seven years after two men were stabbed to death, the Visalia Police Department was able to make an arrest last week. On Feb. 16, the department held a press conference to announce the arrest of 46-year-old Elio Dominguez Benavente in connection with a 1989 double homicide. Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said the department never forgets murder cases like this and never gave up on the case as long as there were leads to follow up on.

“In cold cases like this, people assume that, after awhile, we lose track of it and no one pays attention to it,” Salazar said. “In this case, hard work, persistence and cooperation with other law enforcement led to an arrest which brings closure to this victim’s families and justice to this case and the suspect. We continue to work on cases and they are not forgotten.”

The case began on April 8, 1989 when the Visalia Police Department responded to a stabbing near Murray Avenue and Willis Street in downtown Visalia at about 3:30 a.m. Steven Guerra was found stabbed to death at the location. Later that morning, a vehicle matching the description of one that fled the scene was located in the 400 block of Strawberry Street. Inside the vehicle, police found the body of Jason Alvarez, who was also stabbed to death.

Detectives interviewed Benavente, a friend of Alvarez’s, shortly after the crimes but he was released due to a lack of probable cause to arrest. As the case developed during the investigation, additional information linked Benavente to the crimes. The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Benavente’s charging him with two counts of murder.

For the past 26 years, Benavente has avoided capture despite numerous attempts to locate him including follow-ups with witnesses, media pleas for witnesses to come forward, being listed among California’s Most Wanted list and a 2003 profile of this case on America’s Most Wanted.

Chief Salazar said it is unusual for cold cases to be solved more than 25 years after the crimes were committed. He gave credit to recently retired Lt. Jeff McIntosh who worked on the cast for the most of the 27 years from the crime to last week’s arrest.

“He worked hard on this case to keep it active and never gave up trying to locate Benavente,” Salazar said. “This is an important case to the department in terms of persistence. This is one of those crimes that we don’t forget.”

He also credited Sgt. Kevin Kroeze and Detective Cummings for keeping leads alive and working with federal and foreign agencies to arrest Benavente while he was evading authorities in Mexico.

“A homicide case is forever open as long as there are leads and information to keep working on,” said Sgt. Kevin Kroeze.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Visalia Police Department received information that Benavente was possibly in Mexico. The department worked with several agencies including the FBI, U.S. Marshal’s Office, and Mexican authorities. Benavente was arrested two weeks ago in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and turned over to U.S. authorities in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 14.

On Feb. 15, 2016, Visalia Police Department detectives travelled to El Paso and took custody of Benavente. He was transported back to Visalia and booked into the Tulare County Jail.

During a Feb. 15 arraignment at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility, Benavente was charged with two counts of first degree murder with special allegations for using a knife in the commission of a violent crime.

“This is a testament to the men and women of our police department,” said District Attorney Tim Ward. “We stand for the fact that no victim’s voice will go silent. No matter how much time, their voice will not be diminished.”

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