NATIONAL NEWS

Judge sets $10 million bond for Venezuelan man accused of killing a 12-year-old Houston girl

Jun 24, 2024, 3:10 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — A judge in Texas set bond of $10 million Monday for an undocumented Venezuelan man accused of killing a 12-year-old Houston girl whose body was found in a creek after she disappeared during a walk to a convenience store.

Franklin Jose Peña Ramos, 26, is one of two men charged with capital murder in the girl’s death. The other is Johan Jose Martinez-Rangel, 22.

Peña’s bond was set during a court hearing in which prosecutors told state District Judge Josh Hill that he and Martinez-Rangel tried to flee the Houston area after the killing.

The two men are Venezuelan nationals who entered the United States illegally in March, according to a statement Friday from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. U.S. Border Patrol near El Paso, Texas, arrested Martinez-Rangel on March 14 and Peña on March 28. Both were released with orders to appear in court at a later date.

Immigration is a top concern for voters, with many saying President Joe Biden hasn’t been doing enough to secure the country’s borders. Earlier this month, Biden unveiled plans to enact immediate significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Both Peña and Martinez-Rangel are now under immigration holds by federal authorities, meaning they would remain in custody even if they could post bond. Martinez-Rangel is set to appear in court to review his bond status on Tuesday.

The body of the girl they are accused of killing was found June 17 in a shallow creek after police said she sneaked out of her nearby home the night before. She was strangled to death, according to the medical examiner.

The suspects allegedly lured the girl under a bridge and remained with her there for more than two hours, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege the men took off her pants, tied her up and killed her before throwing her body in the bayou. It doesn’t appear that the two men knew the 12-year-old, said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

“Make no mistake, this is a horrific crime,” Ogg said during a news conference following Peña’s court hearing.

Lisa Andrews, a court-appointed attorney for Peña, did not immediately reply to a call and email seeking comment.

The victim’s mother remembered her daughter on Monday as someone who was quirky and “definitely made people laugh.”

“I’m always going to remember those memories because she had such a bright future ahead of her and I knew she was going to go very far,” she said. “These monsters took that opportunity from her, from her family.”

Police arrested Martinez-Rangel and Peña, who investigators said were roommates, on Thursday. Authorities said surveillance video showed two men approaching the girl before walking to a Houston convenience store with her. The three then walked together to a bridge, where the girl was killed, police said. The Associated Press is withholding the victim’s name because it does not name possible victims of sexual assault.

The girl’s grandfather said Monday that his granddaughter’s death could have been prevented if the country’s immigration system had been “redone.”

“I don’t believe that everyone who crosses the border is bad. But within them, there are some who are,” he said. “Why not take some more time and investigate these people who come here?”

Ogg said the capital murder charges Peña and Martinez-Rangel face are not death penalty eligible. But if additional DNA testing or other evidence shows the victim was sexually assaulted or kidnapped, the death penalty would be possible, she said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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Judge sets $10 million bond for Venezuelan man accused of killing a 12-year-old Houston girl