Arrest In 25-Year-Old Murder Case

gavel against backdrop of map of Texas and Mexico
Margarito Hernandez was homeless, hungry and feeble when he crossed the Mexican border to visit a sister in the Texas Panhandle last month.

That's when trouble really began for the 83-year-old man. Immigration officials in El Paso ran a warrant check on Hernandez and found he was wanted in the 1978 slaying of Georgia Ruiz, a mother of seven who had rented him a room.

"He said he was involved in the shooting," Plainview Police Chief William Mull said Monday. "He didn't express any remorse. And, according to him, he did not know she was dead at the time he left the house."

Hernandez was transported to Plainview last week for arraignment on a murder charge.

From his wheelchair, he told Hale County Judge Kaye Phillips that he hadn't worked in three years and had no money.

"We understand Mr. Hernandez had fallen on hard times," Mull said. "Living in Old Mexico can be hard on you. It really surprised me that he was still alive."

Hernandez's court appointed attorney, Craig Hukill, was out of town Monday and unavailable to comment.

Mull, who investigated the murder case 25 years ago, said he visited Hernandez in jail and found that "his memory is still sharp about the incident."

Ruiz, 46, was shot twice in the chest Dec. 21, 1978, with the family's .357-caliber handgun as she sat in a chair in her living room. There was no struggle and the gun was never recovered, Mull said.

Hernandez, who was 58 at the time, worked at a nearby meatpacking plant and lived in Ruiz's basement. He wanted access to the house while the family was away visiting relatives for Christmas and insisted Ruiz give him a key, Mull said.

"Mrs. Ruiz didn't want him to have one," and the two argued, Mull said.

Lupe Ruiz, a teenager in 1978, said he heard the second of two shots fired at his mother's chest and ran out of his bedroom to find her bleeding. Three of his seven siblings were in the house at the time but none witnessed the shooting. The children "saw Mr. Hernandez running out the door, get in his van and drive away," Mull said.

Police sent out a regional alert but Hernandez eluded authorities. The Ruiz family told police they believed he would head to Mexico.

In the years that followed, tips trickled in every now and then - an address in Mexico and a report of Hernandez visiting relatives in the Panhandle - but they never led to an arrest.

For Lupe Ruiz, his father and siblings, the arrest is a gift, he said, but it has reopened a wound that won't truly ever heal.

"That memory never goes away," Ruiz, 39, said Monday. "It's just numbing. We're in shock but at the same time we're glad he's going to pay for what he did."

Hernandez remained jailed Monday on $100,000 bail. He is using a cane to walk, Mull said.

Lupe Ruiz said he isn't concerned about Hernandez's age and frailty. He wants him to stand trial.

"We're glad it's coming to a close, that part of it anyway," he said.

By Betsy Blaney