The man who admitted killing Jose Cruz during the robbery of La Placita market said in court Friday that targeting the store was the idea of his co-defendant currently standing trial.
Cruz, 31, was shot while attempting to intervene in the March 31, 2017, robbery at the store on Morgantown Road.
Jonny Alexander Reyes-Martinez has pleaded guilty to murder and other charges stemming from the event, admitting that he fired the shot that killed Cruz.
Reyes-Martinez appeared as a witness Friday in the trial of Jorge Santos Caballero-Melgar, who is on trial on charges of murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and other offenses.
Reyes-Martinez testified that he knew Caballero-Melgar from when they were children growing up in Honduras.
After being previously deported, Reyes-Martinez came back to the U.S. earlier in 2017 and reconnected with Caballero-Melgar in Nashville, saying that he quickly embarked on a string of robberies in Nashville and elsewhere with other people because he owed Caballero-Melgar money.
“I needed to get money for the help coming here from Honduras and a car I owed him for,” Reyes-Martinez said through an interpreter.
Reyes-Martinez said Caballero-Melgar chose the businesses to rob, provided him with the location for each robbery ahead of time and typically supplied him with firearms moments before each crime.
Caballero-Melgar and others would go into the business ahead of time to learn where the money was kept and to send a money order as a form of surveillance, but during the actual robbery, he would not set foot inside the business, Reyes-Martinez said.
“He would stay on the phone with us and tell us when police was coming and we would have to leave,” Reyes-Martinez said through an interpreter.
By the time of the La Placita robbery, Reyes-Martinez was living in North Carolina, and he traveled from there to Bowling Green, meeting with Caballero-Melgar and Jose Varela, who entered the store with Reyes-Martinez.
Reyes-Martinez said Caballero-Melgar gave him a handgun, which was then loaded with bullets at their rendezvous point.
“The people in the store might have weapons or the police could arrive,” Reyes-Martinez said in response to a question from Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia Gomez asking why they loaded the firearms.
During his testimony, Reyes-Martinez narrated his actions while watching surveillance video footage from La Placita.
He said he told Caballero-Melgar over the phone that there were quite a few checks in the business, and he was told to take them along with whatever money he was able to take.
As the robbers were preparing to leave, Cruz arrived to pick up his son, saw that a robbery was in progress and attempted to stop it.
Surveillance footage shows the robbers struggling with Cruz before he falls to the floor near the store’s entrance, and the robbers walk over his body on their way out of the business.
“He wanted to take the weapon from me,” Reyes-Martinez said through an interpreter. “We were fighting for a long time and I shot him. (Varela) returned to help me.”
The bullet that struck Cruz in the lower back hit Varela in the elbow first, according to court records.
After leaving the store, Reyes-Martinez, Varela and Caballero-Melgar met up in Madison, Tenn., and split the money from the robbery equally among themselves, Reyes-Martinez said.
Reyes-Martinez testified that the gun he used in the robbery was given to Caballero-Melgar and shipped to Honduras.
He also acknowledged that a cellphone left behind at the crime scene belonged to him and that he had two phones in his possession at the time.
Cross-examination from Caballero-Melgar’s attorney, Bryce Caldwell, focused on the plea agreement Reyes-Martinez reached with prosecutors.
Reyes-Martinez faced a maximum penalty of life in prison for his crimes, but he pleaded guilty within weeks of his trial date, accepting a deal requiring him to testify against any co-defendants who tried their cases.
Under questioning, Reyes-Martinez admitted that he hoped for a reduced sentence and acknowledged the scope of his actions during multiple robberies, including restraining store employees with duct tape and threatening them with firearms.
“There’s nothing you wouldn’t say in this courtroom under oath to ensure you will get a sentence you can live with, correct?” Caldwell asked Reyes-Martinez.
In response, Reyes-Martinez attempted to stress he was there to tell the truth.
“I wouldn’t be up here saying any old thing,” Reyes-Martinez said through an interpreter.
Co-defendant, FBI expert testify
Junior Bueso testified Thursday afternoon against Caballero-Melgar.
Bueso has pleaded guilty and been sentenced for his role in the conspiracy.
Bueso testified that he was part of the group who traveled to North Carolina to rob Mercadito La Luz in September 2017.
Through an interpreter, Bueso said he carried an ax into the business during the robbery and that he traveled with Caballero-Melgar and four other people to North Carolina.
Bueso said that Caballero-Melgar remained outside the store during the robbery and he was not sure what Caballero-Melgar’s role was.
Watching surveillance video footage of the incident, Bueso testified that he could see co-defendant Elvin Sanchez on a cellphone with who he believed was Caballero-Melgar.
Bueso and four other people were arrested shortly after the robbery. Caballero-Melgar avoided arrest at the time.
Also Thursday afternoon, FBI Special Agent Richard Fennern discussed his work as a national asset with the agency’s Cellular Analysis Survey Team, whose agents decipher cellphone records.
Fennern said he used records obtained from phone companies to conduct historical data analysis on cellphones with numbers registered to Caballero-Melgar, Reyes-Martinez and other co-defendants to show how they traveled to and from various robberies and stayed in communication with one another.
With the aid of maps depicting cell tower locations, Fennern described how cellphone activity for Caballero-Melgar and Reyes-Martinez was tracked from Nashville to Bowling Green and back to Nashville on March 16-17, 2017.
The robbery at La Placita occurred from 2:57 p.m. to 3:03 p.m. on March 17, 2017, and Fennern said that analysis showed activity on two cell towers close to La Placita in connection with two phones with numbers registered to Reyes-Martinez from 2:43 p.m. to 3:11 p.m.