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Press Release

June 20, 2018

Man convicted for his role in the burning death of Ontario woman


Booking Photo: Johnny Hernandez

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A 25-year-old man was convicted Tuesday for his role in the 2011 torture and burning death of Maria Banuelos.

A Rancho Cucamonga jury found Johnny Hernandez guilty of First Degree Murder of Maria Banuelos, with the jury also finding true the special circumstance that her murder was committed during the course or commission of Mayhem, as well as one count of Torture, one count of Mayhem and one count of Arson Causing Death.

Following the death of Banuelos, investigators arrested four other suspects linked to the brutal attack: 45-year-old Hector Meza of Yucca Valley, 27-year-old Genese Ramirez of Banning, 25-year-old Robert Zapata of San Bernardino, and 30-year-old Johnathan Zuniga of Rancho Cucamonga.

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.

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

According to Deputy District Attorney Kent Williams, who prosecuted the case, it was later determined by the coroner that the victim had been hit on the head three times with something consistent with a metal bar prior to being set on fire.

Meza was sentenced Jan. 4, 2017 to Life in State Prison Without the Possibility of Parole.

Zuniga was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison March 24, 2017.

Ramirez is due back in court later this week for a status hearing.

Zapata is scheduled to appear in court for a Pre-Trial Hearing June 29.

Hernandez faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole when sentenced Aug. 31, 2018.

This case was investigated by the Ontario Police Department.

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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