DADE CITY — Prosecutors brought evidence and witnesses from Land O'Lakes and Alamo, Texas, to use against Justo Arturo Moreno-Gonzalez, but the most damning piece of evidence was his own words.
In a recording played Wednesday before the jury in the Dade City courthouse, Moreno-Gonzalez, 51, could be heard confessing to murdering Diane Yeager-Lombard, 51, in May 2008. He seemed to have already reconciled the consequences.
"If I have to pay with my life," he told detectives after his arrest in 2010, "then I will pay with my life."
Prosecutor Stacey Sumner repeated the sentence in her closing arguments Thursday afternoon. After the jury deliberated for 55 minutes, Moreno-Gonzalez learned he would pay by losing a lifetime of freedom. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, and he was immediately sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty.
Moreno-Gonzalez had been working in Yeager-Lombard's neighborhood installing cable lines and offered to help spread dirt on her property. He developed an infatuation with Yeager-Lombard, which was rebuffed — a motive for the killing, authorities said.
The jury heard from one of Moreno-Gonzalez's co-workers, who recalled him venting his frustration with Yeager-Lombard in the days leading up to the murder. Moreno-Gonzalez said he wanted to "choke her like a . . . chicken" and mentioned wanting to use his .40-caliber handgun on her.
Neighbors would find her dead on her front porch May 4, 2008, with a .40-caliber shell casing on the walkway nearby. When investigators in Hidalgo County, Texas found Moreno-Gonzalez's abandoned Toyota Tundra at an El Tigre gas station, they found another .40-caliber shell casing beneath the front seat. Ballistics investigators testified that both had been fired from the same gun.
Defense attorney Dustin Anderson argued that data records showed Moreno-Gonzalez's cellphone was connected with a network of cell towers that meant it would have been between Louisiana and Dallas at the estimated time of the shooting, 5 p.m. May 3.
Juan Lopez, a clerk at the El Tigre convenience store in San Juan, Texas, 1,305 miles away from Yeager-Lombard's home on Bahia Loop, testified he saw the truck parked at the station at 4 p.m. May 3.
"The important part is the time line," Anderson told the jury.
The shooting could have happened at any point May 3 or even May 2, said prosecutor Manny Garcia. The jury sided with him.
Yeager-Lombard's parents sat together in the row behind the prosecution for the trial's three days. When the verdict was read, Betty Ames looked on as her husband wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
Afterward, in the courthouse hallway, she clasped her hands and glanced toward the ceiling.
"Six years," she said. "It finally closes everything. And we go on from here."
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.