Francisco Melgar-Cabrera Sentenced to Life Imprisonment
ALBUQUERQUE—Francisco Melgar-Cabrera was sentenced this afternoon in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to life imprisonment for his conviction on felony murder and Hobbs Act charges arising from the murder of Stephanie Anderson and the armed robberies of two Albuquerque-area restaurants in June 2009. Melgar-Cabrera, 32, a Salvadoran national, was sentenced to life imprisonment on the felony murder charge and 20 years in prison on the Hobbs Act charges.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said, “Although the life sentence imposed on Melgar-Cabrera cannot restore Stephanie Anderson to her family and friends, I hope it brings them a measure of comfort and closure.” The U.S. Attorney commended the seasoned officers and career prosecutors who devoted more than six years to bring justice to Ms. Anderson’s family and the others who were victimized by Melgar-Cabrera and his three cohorts. “In particular, I want to recognize Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis E. Valencia and ATF Special Agent Paul Jessen, both of whom were on the case from the beginning and repeatedly delayed retirement plans until all four defendants were convicted and sentenced. They exemplify the Justice Department’s resolve to hold criminals accountable.”
“I am extremely proud of the work of this office and our law enforcement partners on this case. I would like to recognize the investigative efforts of ATF Special Agents – especially the efforts of ATF Special Agent Paul Jessen, who for years doggedly pursued Melgar-Cabrera for his role in Stephanie Anderson’s murder. I hope the life sentence imposed today brings some peace to Stephanie’s family,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas G Atteberry of ATF’s Phoenix Division. “ATF is committed to working with our law enforcement partners – at home and around the world – to take violent criminals off the streets and bring them to justice.”
“Violent criminals are grabbing headlines lately, but today’s sentencing proves they are no match for law enforcement as we work together to bring them to justice, no matter where they try to hide or how long it takes to find them,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert White. “Stephanie Anderson’s murder was a tragic loss for our community and the FBI and its partners were not going to let this crime go unpunished. Many dedicated professionals worked tirelessly with us on this case, including the FBI Legal Attaché in San Salvador, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI’s Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Government of El Salvador, and the Albuquerque Police Department.”
“We hope today’s sentencing brings a sense of closure and justice to Ms. Anderson’s family and all of those involved,” said Chief Gorden Eden, Jr., of the Albuquerque Police Department. “Our goal in law enforcement is to pursue justice no matter how long it takes or how many hurdles we may face. I am thankful for all of our law enforcement partnerships and the positive impact we are able to have especially when dangerous criminals like Melgar-Cabrera are prosecuted in the federal system.”
Melgar-Cabrera and two co-defendants Marvin Aguilar-Lopez and Pablo De Leon Ortiz, both Salvadoran nationals, were indicted in Oct. 2009, and charged with violating the Hobbs Act by robbing a business involved in interstate commerce, felony murder and firearms offenses. The charges arose from the armed robbery of a Denny’s Restaurant located at 1602 Coors Blvd. NW in Albuquerque on June 20, 2009, and the murder of Ms. Anderson, a cook at the restaurant.
In April 2010, the indictment was superseded to add Melgar-Cabrera’s brother, Jose Melgar-Cabrera, also a Salvadoran national, as a defendant. Jose Melgar-Cabrera was charged as an accessory after the fact for assisting Melgar-Cabrera’s flight to avoid apprehension. A second superseding indictment, filed in Oct. 2010, added four new robbery and firearms offenses against Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz that arose out of the armed robbery of a Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon located at 10019 Coors Blvd. NW in Albuquerque on June 13, 2009.
The trial of Melgar-Cabrera for the armed robbery of two businesses involved in interstate commerce and felony murder began on Aug. 25, 2015 and ended Sept. 3, 2015, when the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all three charges. The evidence established that Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz robbed the Lone Star Steakhouse at gunpoint at 11:00 a.m. on June 13, 2009. Witnesses testified seeing two masked men with firearms rush the restaurant’s general manager, who was on his way to deposit the prior day’s receipts, and push their guns into his stomach. One of the masked men took the money bag from the general manager and the other took money from the general manager’s wallet. A third man drove the two masked men away in a gold-colored car. The evidence revealed that Melgar-Cabrera was the man who drove the two masked men, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz, away from the Lone Star Steakhouse.
The evidence also established that on the morning of June 20, 2009, Melgar-Cabrera, Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon-Ortiz, who were masked and armed, charged into the Denny’s Restaurant, brandished their weapons, and demanded that everyone get down on the floor. The men were in the Denny’s for a few minutes during which a frenzy of activity ensued including the following: a restaurant employee dropped a tray of beverages and Aguilar-Lopez slipped on the wet floor and fired his weapon; De Leon-Ortiz grabbed the manager, held a gun to his head, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t turn over the restaurant’s money; and Melgar-Cabrera threatened a waitress and demanded that she open the cash register. After Melgar-Cabrera and De Leon-Ortiz grabbed cash out of the register, the three men fled from the restaurant. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Anderson, who was struck by the bullet fired by Aguilar-Lopez, died of a gunshot wound.
Aguilar-Lopez and De Leon Ortiz each entered guilty pleas to armed robbery and felony murder charges. Aguilar-Lopez was sentenced to 40 years in prison and De Leon Ortiz was sentenced to a 35-year term of imprisonment. They will be deported after completing their prison sentences. Jose Melgar-Cabrera pled guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 48 months in prison. After completing his prison sentence, Jose Melgar-Cabrera was deported to El Salvador.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque offices of ATF and FBI and APD and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Louis E. Valencia and Presiliano A. Torrez.