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Horrific details of double murder emerge during testimony at preliminary hearing

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Court testimony revealed shocking details of the murders of a 13-year-old girl and her grandmother. AL.com reports a Madison County Sheriff's investigator testified in the case today. The investigators said 13-year-old Mariah Lopez was beheaded because she witnessed the killing of her grandmother Oralia Mendoza.

Israel Palomino, 34, and Yoni Aguilar, 26, are both charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to the deaths of Mendoza and Lopez. Aguilar was in Madison County District Court on Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

Investigator Stacy Rutherford took the stand today. The following information is what he testified to:

  • Mendoza had ties with the Sinaloa Cartel, a drug-trafficking organization.
  • Days before the killings, Mendoza went with three others to pick up a shipment of methamphetamine in Georgia.
  • The situation turned deadly when something went wrong with the trip.
  • Palomino, Aguilar, Mendoza and a woman named Leticia Garcia, who also had ties to the cartel.
  • Investigators believe that Palomino thought it was a setup.
  • Mendoza was told that she and Mariah Lopez would be taken somewhere safe early June 4.
  • Instead, the two men drove the woman and her granddaughter to Moon Cemetery on Cave Springs Road.
  • Aguilar reported that Mendoza and Palomino argued about the drug buy before Palomino stabbed her with a knife.
  • Aguilar also reported he and Palomino took Lopez to a secluded area because she witnessed the event where Palomino forced him to kill the girl.
  • Aguilar told investigators that Palomino moved his arm in a sawing motion, causing him to behead the girl.
  • Aguilar complied because "he said he was fearful of Israel."

A body was found on a farm on Lemley drive on June 7. When the sheriff's office released a description of the clothes found, Mariah Lopez' mother, who is Mendoza's daughter told them she believed the body was Mariah. Forensic evidence confirmed the girl's identity a week later. Aguilar and Palomino were already in custody.

When Aguilar confessed, authorities located Mendoza's body at the cemetery on June 15. Investigators placed both men in the area during the time of the killings with their cell phone activity. They also recovered two knives they believe to be the murder weapons. One was discovered under Aguilar's mattress, the other was under Palomino's mattress. Investigators also found blood in Palomino's vehicle.

The judged ruled that there is enough evidence in the case to move to the grand jury phase. Palomino's case is set for a preliminary hearing on July 16.