A husband, his cousin, and a woman are behind bars in Tampa, Florida, for allegedly collaborating to kill his wife and an ex-boyfriend as part of an elaborate framing plot, state authorities say.
Cornelio Negrete Jr., 28, is the husband arrested. He was taken into custody on Tuesday, nearly a month after his wife and mother of three, 22-year-old Erica Negrete, was shot to death in front of a home they shared on July 18.
It turns out Cornelio, who claimed to be shot that day but survived, was the one who allegedly ordered the hit, helping kill his wife while trying to frame the ex-boyfriend of his cousin’s girlfriend with the crime, cops say.
That plan nearly came to fruition, with Cornelio initially avoiding blame and telling local media how heartbroken he was to have lost his partner. He told WTSP 10 he wasn’t sure who the shooter was, but, even if he did, he’d never be fully happy again without Erica.
“I won’t be 100 percent happy if they are behind bars because they took my wife and she is irreplaceable, but I will know they can’t do this to anyone else,” Cornelio told the station at his wife’s funeral, of all places.
A tribute video, posted along with an obituary, featured numerous photos of Cornelio, Erica, and her three children.
Cops now claim Cornelio knew who pulled the trigger all along: 27-year-old Daniel Negrete, his cousin, who was aided by his girlfriend, 20-year-old Fatima Garcia Avila. The duo were arrested last week for their role in the hit, court records show.
Cornelio’s plan, apparently, was to kill Erica and then frame the slaying on Avila’s ex-boyfriend, Antonio Cuellar-Enriquez, the Tampa Bay Times reported, citing a witness’ testimony.
Garcia allegedly said she “had to use somebody to take the fall” in Erica’s death, “so who else better than my ex?”
An arrest affidavit for Cornelio was not available Wednesday afternoon. Court documents for his cousin and his girlfriend, however, detailed the slayings of Erica and Cuellar-Enriquez.
The affidavit said Cornelio and Erica spent her last night alive together at a nearby Chili’s before they returned to their home in Dover, a Tampa suburb. Their relationship was testy as of late, the affidavit said, as Cornelio learned Erica had cheated on him with two men from her work.
Later that night, when Erica left their house to head to her mother’s home on July 18, the 22-year-old was ambushed and shot as she stepped outside. Cornelio told investigators he heard gunshots and a scream, so he ran outside to check on his wife, only to find her collapsed on the ground, motionless.
Before dying, Cornelio claims his wife told him to go get his gun, he told investigators. When he returned, however, he was “hit” by something in the head and briefly blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he said he saw his wife’s assailant driving away in his truck as she laid dead. He then called 911, court documents say.
That truck, a Chevrolet Avalanche, was found later that night, engulfed in flames about 8 miles away. Cornelio was treated for the head injury he claimed to have, but a CT scan revealed no damage and his head showed no apparent trauma, the affidavit said.
A week into the investigation, detectives still hadn’t tracked down a killer. The burned truck yielded no evidence, and deputies were unable to track bullet casings to a suspect, the affidavit said, so they issued a call to the public asking for information.
What appeared to be a breakthrough came a week later, on July 26, when Erica’s father received a text in Spanish from a number linked to Cuellar-Enriquez, Avila’s ex-boyfriend who used to work for the father’s tire company.
The text from “Antonio” apologized to the grieving father for what “they did,” and that his conscience was killing him, the affidavit said.
The father, Gabriel Aviles, immediately turned the text over to law enforcement to investigate. But, police later determined, it wasn’t Cuellar-Enriquez who sent the time-stamped texts, because he couldn’t have. He’d been murdered five hours before the first message was ever sent on July 25.
Detectives now had two suspicious murders on their hands, and eyes began to turn toward Daniel and Avila.
After police went through Cuellar-Enriquez’s text history, they found texts that showed Avila contacting Cuellar-Enriquez that asked him to spend the night with her. When the unsuspecting Cuellar-Enriquez obliged, the affidavit says, Avila tried to slip him pills for a headache she hoped would kill him.
The pills failed to knock out or kill Cuellar-Enriquez, however, so Avila put in a call to her boyfriend for help. When Daniel arrived, he confronted Cuellar-Enriquez and shot him after a “struggle,” the affidavit said.
With Cuellar-Enriquez dead, the affidavit says the couple used his cellphone to send texts to Erica’s father in an attempt to implicate him for Erica’s murder.
Investigators did not list exactly what led them to discover the trio’s alleged elaborate plot, but said it identified multiple “violations” by Avila and Daniel during the course of an investigation, and arrested the couple on Aug. 2. Cornelio was arrested on Tuesday for his role in the slayings.
Cornelio faces charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, principal to first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and false reports to law enforcement.
Both Avila and Daniel face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. All three are being held without bail as they await trial.