Crime & Courts

Legal, emotional aspects to capital-murder case involving Wichita twins

A crime scene investigator walks around the Shores apartment complex near Pawnee and Broadway. Guarding the apartment was a Wichita police officer. Wichita police say a husband and wife were shot to death at their apartment in a double homicide. Their bodies were found shortly after midnight. (Jan. 15, 2015)
A crime scene investigator walks around the Shores apartment complex near Pawnee and Broadway. Guarding the apartment was a Wichita police officer. Wichita police say a husband and wife were shot to death at their apartment in a double homicide. Their bodies were found shortly after midnight. (Jan. 15, 2015) Wichita

The key legal development in the case against Luis Alvarado-Meraz is that a judge found enough evidence for the Wichita man to be tried on a capital-murder charge – stemming from the 21 shots fired from an AK-47 or handgun at his identical twin and sister-in-law.

But there also was an emotional side that played out in the courtroom Thursday. And it revolved around the impact on the twins’ family.

The day’s proceedings would culminate in a judge’s decision on whether to grant a mother’s request.

Earlier Thursday, Alvarado-Meraz’s father choked up when he testified about finding the bodies of his 24-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter-in-law in their south Wichita apartment this past January. He and his wife had suspected something was wrong with their twin sons and went to check on them.

Jesus Alvarado-Meraz, the father, said even though his slain son was an identical twin, he knew which twin it was lying on the floor. He could always tell them apart.

He also recognized a rifle that he saw lying on the floor. The gun was later determined by authorities to be an AK-47 assault-type rifle.

In the moments after he found the bodies, he was too upset to talk and asked another son to call 911. After he exited the apartment and stepped outside where his wife was waiting, he locked the front door to keep her from seeing the bodies, he testified.

The testimony was part of a preliminary hearing for Luis Alvarado-Meraz. The 25-year-old is charged with capital murder in the shootings of Manuel Alvarado-Meraz and his wife, Lucero Rodriguez. The three shared an apartment at The Shores, near Pawnee and Broadway.

Autopsies showed that the couple died of multiple gunshot wounds. Wichita police Detective Tim Relph testified that 21 shots were fired, based on shell casings.

Through a Spanish-language interpreter, the father testified that he and his wife lost another son, to cancer, in 2001. As he left the witness stand, his son – who is now facing the possibility of the death penalty – watched his father walk past him. Tears streaked the son’s face.

His mother, seated in one of the rows behind him, leaned her head onto the shoulder of another son.

Relatives of Rodriguez, the slain woman, filled another row in the courtroom. Some of them had traveled from two states away. They dabbed their eyes as they listened to the evidence.

Prosecutors also drew testimony that two of the defendant’s friends got phone calls or text messages from him the night of the shooting saying he had shot his twin brother. According to other testimony, the defendant said there had been an argument and that he had “(messed) up.”

At the end of Thursday’s testimony, Chief Attorney Justin Edwards, the lead prosecutor, asked Judge Jeffrey Goering to send the defendant to trial on the capital murder charge and two alternative counts of first-degree murder. Edwards argued that there was sufficient evidence to support the charges, including that 21 shots had been fired at close range. That amounted to premeditation, Edwards said.

Luis Alvarado-Meraz has remained in jail on a $1 million bond, and Goering on Thursday denied a request to reconsider the bond.

Although Alvarado-Meraz also is charged with two alternative counts of first-degree murder, if convicted of capital murder, he could face the death penalty. A trial date has not been set. His arraignment will be July 29, when a judge could set a trial date.

At the end of Thursday’s proceedings, after Rodriguez’s family left the courtroom, the judge announced that he had received a request in a letter from the defendant’s mother.

The letter said that she was suffering the loss of “two sons and a daughter in law” whom she loved “like my own daughter.” She asked Goering to allow her to give her son a hug and a kiss before he was taken back to his jail cell.

“I beg you as a mother that is suffering a lot, that would give me some strength to keep going forward,” the letter said.

For security reasons, courthouse officers try to limit contact between inmates and people in a courtroom. But the judge said he was granting the mother’s request.

With tears in her eyes, she walked up to her son as attorneys stepped aside. She put her arms around him, looked into his eyes, said something, kissed his cheek and rubbed his back for a few seconds as he leaned in, limited by handcuffs and shackles.

She stepped away, and an officer led her son back to jail.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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