EDINBURG — After a little more than one hour of deliberation, jurors found Leroy Arista guilty of capital murder Friday in the 2011 beating death of WWII veteran Willis Kimmons.
The charge carries an automatic life sentence without parole.
Jurors convicted Arista of driving fellow murderer David Tarbutton to Kimmons’ home on July 12, 2011, where they broke into the home and beat the 86-year-old retired U.S. Border Patrol agent to death with a crowbar.
Tarbutton pleaded guilty last year and is serving a life sentence.
Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney Victoria Muñiz praised Kimmons during her closing arguments Friday morning as she mentioned his military service, his law enforcement career and willingness to help people as a role model taking teens under his wing, including Tarbutton.
“It was that same kindness that led to his brutal murder,” Muñiz said as she held a picture of a smiling Kimmons only to put it down and pick up a gory crime scene photo of his body. “Mr. Kimmons had been at his home reading a book when evil entered his home — I say evil because that is the only word that can describe the type of persons that would beat an 86-year-old man with a crowbar not once, not twice but multiple times.”
Members of the Kimmons family became emotional as Muñiz talked about the murder of their loved one and showed the gruesome photographs. Other members of the audience openly shed tears as she said Kimmons could have been anyone’s father.
“It was a very gruesome, emotional experience that no one should have to go through,” said Kimmons’ son, William Bogart. “There’s no joy in this guy getting convicted. Dad’s not coming back and this young man has ruined his life. There are no winners.”
The prosecutor then mentioned various pieces of evidence that tied Arista to the crime scene and to the murder; the most dramatic of those was one recording of an argument between him and his mother, Peggy Arista.
“This is a mother, the one person that knows him the best and she calls him an animal,” Muñiz said. “She called him an animal because in that recording he said ‘I beat the old guy, the [expletive] is dead.”
Defense attorney Carlos A. Garcia told jurors that they already had their man as he referred to Thursday’s testimony of Tarbutton, who said that he alone had been the person who entered the home and killed Kimmons.
“Mission police relied on the word of a liar, a thief and a killer,” Garcia said as he referred to an initial statement by Tarbutton that implicated Arista. “Tarbutton had lied to them at least three times, but for some reason they assumed that he must have been saying the truth.”
Garcia called the police investigation “myopic” and flawed in nature and then mentioned that the DNA testing of evidence couldn’t be counted on, because the testing had been done by a lab technician who had a history of mislabeling test results.
The defense attorney said the recording that Muñiz talked about was not the recorded confession of a killer, but the exaggerations of an intoxicated person arguing with his mother.
“Like any intoxicated individuals he was trying to act like a big-shot,” Garcia said. “His own mother asked him ‘Te crees muy chingon’ — Are you trying to be a big shot?”
Kimmons’ daughter said she has found solace following the convictions and has been praying for Tarbutton and Arista by name since she lost her father.
“I don’t have any anger towards them anymore,” Laura Kimmons said. “My heart goes out to the Arista family. It can’t be easy to sit through that trial and see what your son has done.”