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Press Release

Dec. 1, 2016

Yucca Valley man convicted of the burning death of his ex-girlfriend

HECTOR MEZA (BOOKING PHOTO)

Hector Meza (Booking Photo)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A Yucca Valley man was convicted today of the 2011 torture and burning death of his ex-girlfriend, Maria Banuelos.

A Rancho Cucamonga jury found 43-year-old Hector Meza guilty of one count of First Degree Murder, with the jury finding true the special circumstances that the murder was committed during the course or commission of Mayhem, that the murder was intentional and involved infliction of Torture, and that the defendant killed the victim 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.

On Oct. 22, 2011, officers from the Ontario Police Department arrived at an apartment complex and found residents administering aid to 34-year-old Banuelos, who was still on fire.

At the scene, the victim identified Hector 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.”

The Ontario resident was taken to a hospital where she died two days later.

It was later determined by the coroner that the victim had been hit on the head three times with something consistent of a metal bar prior to being set on fire.

Hours after the attack officers arrested Meza on suspicion of attempted murder.

“On this particular night, the victim was leaving her apartment,” said Lead Deputy District Attorney 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.”

Following the death of Banuelos, investigators arrested four other suspects linked to the brutal attack:

Robert Chico Zapata, 24, of San Bernardino
Johnny Eugene Hernandez, 23, (No Known Address)
Johnathan Zuniga, 28, of Rancho Cucamonga
Genese Ramirez Leon, 25, (No Known Address)

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

Meza is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 4, 2017. He faces Life in State Prison Without the Possibility of Parole.

Prosecutors and Investigators believe there may be more witnesses. If you or someone you know has information related to this case, please contact Lt. Langford at the Ontario Police Department at (909) 395-2001.

Contact: Christopher Lee, Public Affairs Officer (909) 382-3665 or via email at clee@sbcda.org or via text at (909) 782-5559

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It is the mission of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office to represent the interests of the people in the criminal justice system, as mandated by California State law. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office serves the residents of San Bernardino County by: seeking the truth, protecting the innocent; holding the guilty accountable; preserving the dignity of victims and their families; and, ensuring that justice is done while always maintaining the highest ethical standards.

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