Man identified as killer by dying ex-girlfriend convicted of murder, torture and arson

A Yucca Valley man was convicted Thursday of the 2011 torture and burning death of his ex-girlfriend, who named him in her dying words. 

A Rancho Cucamonga jury found Hector Meza, 43, guilty of one count of first-degree murder, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office. 

The jury found true the special circumstances that the murder was committed during the course of commission of mayhem, that the murder was intentional and involved infliction of torture and that the defendant killed the victim, Maria Banuelos, by means of lying in wait. 

The jury also found Meza guilty of one count of aggravated mayhem, one count of torture and one count of arson causing great bodily injury, according to the district attorney’s office. 

Ontario police officers arrived at an apartment complex on Oct. 22, 2011, where they found residents administering aid to Banuelos, 34, who was on fire. 

"On this particular night, the victim was leaving her apartment," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kent Williams, who prosecuted the case, “She left her apartment and shortly later her family heard screams. They exited the apartment and saw the victim engulfed in flames on the ground."

At the scene, Banuelos identified Meza and three others as her attackers. While in the ambulance, her dying words were: “Hector Meza set me on fire. He is abusive and obsessive.”

She was taken to a hospital where she died two days later. The coroner later determined that Banuelos had been hit on the head three times with something like a metal bar before being set on fire, the district attorney’s office said. 

Hours after the attacks, Meza was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. 

After Banuelos’ death, investigators arrested four other suspects linked to the attack: Robert Chico Zapata, 24; Johnny Eugene Hernandez, 23; Johnathan Zuniga, 28; and Genese Ramirez Leon, 25. 

The four remaining defendants are due back in court next month. 

Meza is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 4. He faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole. 

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

Twitter: @Brittny_Mejia

 

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