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Inside the Maria Muñoz murder case: A look at the evidence

The Journals of Maria Muñoz
The Journals of Maria Muñoz 41:06

Maria Muñoz, a young and healthy Texas mother, died unexpectedly. A toxicology report later revealed seven different surgical drugs were found in her system. Was it murder or a terrible accident? The evidence presented at Joel Pellot's trial for the murder of his wife tells a different story from what he told police happened the day Muñoz died.

Sept. 22, 2020

Maria Muñoz
Maria Muñoz Facebook

Muñoz, 31,  a stay-at-home mother, lived in Laredo, Texas, with her two young sons and her husband, Pellot. On Sept. 22, 2020, Pellot called 911 saying Muñoz may have taken some prescription pills and was not breathing. First responders tried to save her but after failed attempts, Muñoz was declared dead at 3:58 a.m. that day. The first officer on the scene, Gregorio De La Cruz, told "48 Hours" that Pellot's behavior seemed suspicious and certain aspects about the scene didn't quite make sense. 

Police bodycam video 

Joel Pellot bodycam video
Joel Pellot as seen on Laredo, Texas, police bodycam video on Sept. 22, 2020 after calling 911. Webb County District Attorney's Office

When Officer De La Cruz from the Laredo Police Department responded to the 911 call, his bodycam was recording. Pellot, a nurse anesthetist, is seen dressed in teal surgical scrubs. The video captured some key moments that made De La Cruz suspect that Pellot may have had something to do with his wife's death.   

The pill container

Maria Muñoz evidence
Joel Pellot had told police Maria Muñoz may have overdosed on the drug clonazepam, but when the autopsy was conducted — eight hours after she was declared dead — the medical examiner found no pill residue in her stomach. Webb County District Attorney's Office

One of those key moments was when De La Cruz asked for the pills Pellot said Muñoz had taken. Pellot went to the bathroom and De La Cruz says he heard him pull a container from the medicine cabinet. De La Cruz thought it was odd because in his experience when someone overdoses on drugs, they are usually found near the person. In this case, the clonazepam pills prescribed to Pellot, were in another room. 

Later, Pellot is seen on camera grabbing the pill container from the floor and putting it in his pocket. De La Cruz wondered, why would he take the pills back? Was he hiding something? 

Suspicious behavior

Joel Pellot
Joel Pellot talks to police in his Laredo, Texas, kitchen. Webb County District Attorney's Office

In addition to Pellot putting the pills in his pocket, there was something about his appearance that De La Cruz said seemed suspicious. De La Cruz observed Pellot sweating profusely through his scrubs, and De La Cruz said he seemed like he may have been under the influence of drugs.  

Evidence at the scene

Maria Munoz evidence
A needle catheter, the kind used for IVs, was discovered on the carpeted staircase. Webb County District Attorney's Office

De La Cruz also found a needle catheter on the stairs at the couple's home. This didn't make much sense to him.  Pellot and Muñoz had two young children — why would there be a needle on the stairs? 

A medical bag

Maria Muñoz evidence
Syringes and IV equipment were found in a medical bag  inside the home. Webb County District Attorney's Office

In addition to the needle, first responders also found syringes and IV equipment in a medical bag at the home. Although Pellot was a nurse anesthetist who worked in operating rooms, these types of supplies are normally found in a medical setting. 

Police interview Joel Pellot

Joel Pellot
Cameras recorded Joel Pellot in the police interview room. While he was alone, "he's hitting walls, he's moving furniture … It was scaring some of the people down the hall in the dispatch room," said Sgt. Luis Mata. Laredo Police Department

Authorities put Pellot in the back of a cruiser and drove him to the police station for an interview. The cameras captured him crying, screaming, and pushing furniture around in the interview room.

During this interview, Pellot told lead investigator Sgt. Luis Mata that he had moved out of the house and was living with his girlfriend and that he went to see Muñoz to talk about their marriage. Pellot told Mata that his wife took the clonazepam pills at some point after they talked, and the medical supplies found at the home were his. Pellot said he was taking steroids. 

An unexplained pinprick mark

Maria Munoz evidence
What investigators found particularly suspicious was a pinprick mark on Maria Muñoz's right elbow crease, the type someone would get after getting an IV.  Webb County District Attorney's Office

What Pellot couldn't explain was a red mark on Muñoz's right elbow crease. This mark, along with phone calls from concerned friends, family, and colleagues of Pellot telling Mata that Pellot may have killed Maria, is what led him to request a toxicology screening. 

Maria Muñoz's own words

Maria Munoz journal
Maria Muñoz's journal Webb County District Attorney's Office

Investigators found a series of journals Muñoz used to write about what was happening in her life. Through her writings, they discovered Muñoz loved her husband and wanted to keep her family together, but accepted that he wanted to be with someone else.

The medical examiner also looked at the journals and determined Muñoz's death was not a suicide. 

Maria Muñoz's cellphone recordings

Maria Muñoz evidence
Cellphone video secretly recorded by Maria Muñoz shows her and her husband Joel Pellot arguing in the car. Webb County District Attorney's Office

Muñoz secretly recorded a conversation on her cellphone that provided a glimpse on how Pellot was treating her. In the cellphone video, Muñoz is heard asking her husband what he wanted out of their marriage. She was trying to keep her family together, but Pellot didn't seem interested in having that conversation.  

"Pray for me"

Maria Muñoz evidence
The day before Maria Muñoz died, she planned to meet with Joel Pellot to discuss their future. She texted a friend: "I just ask if you can pray for me ... Tonight we are going to talk …"  Webb County District Attorney's Office

The day before she died, Muñoz told her friend, Yazmin Martinez, that she and Pellot were going to have a "heart to heart" conversation that night. Muñoz asked Martinez to pray for her, but not because she suspected her husband was capable of killing her. Martinez said all Muñoz was hoping for was an honest conversation with him. 

A bombshell toxicology report

Muñoz toxicology report
The toxicology report showed no clonazepam — the drug Joel Pellot claimed Maria Muñoz had taken — in her system. It revealed seven other drugs in her system, most of them typically used during surgery and one of them can only be administered with an IV. Webb County District Attorney's Office

In January 2021, Mata and De La Cruz finally got the toxicology test results they had been waiting for. There was no clonazepam, the drug Pellot claimed Muñoz had taken. But there were seven other drugs in Muñoz's system: morphine, Demerol, Versed, Propofol, ketamine, lidocaine, and Narcan. Most of them are typically used during surgery. 

"Maria's Team"

From left, Karina Rios, Ana Karen Garza, Marisela Jacaman and Cristal Calderon
From left, Karina Rios, Ana Karen Garza, Marisela Jacaman and Cristal Calderon. CBS News

District Attorney Isidro Alaniz selected a team of attorneys to represent Muñoz: Karina Rios, Ana Karen Garza Gutierrez, Marisela Jacaman, and Cristal Calderon. Based on the evidence collected at the scene, the extensive writings in Muñoz's journals, interviews with friends, and expert accounts, they were convinced Pellot killed his wife. 

A guilty verdict

Joel Pellot
Joel Pellot at his trial for the murder of Maria Muñoz. KYLX, Laredo, Texas

The all-women prosecution team built a strong case against Joel Pellot, and showed the jury the type of wife and mother Maria Muñoz was. The prosecutors told "48 Hours" that Muñoz's journals helped them understand what she was going through and motivated them to fight for justice in her case.

On March 30, 2023, after nine days of trial, a jury found Joel Pellot guilty of murdering his wife Maria

Maria's journals were her testimony

Maria Muñoz
Maria Muñoz Rosalinda Villarreal Photography

"Maria's team" says the most important witness at trial ended up being Muñoz herself. Prosecutors shared with "48 Hours" that they could feel Maria's energy through her journals. They describe her as a great mother, loving and bright.

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