Chuck Rosenthal: So Tough on Crime That a Suspect Goes Free

The DA doesn't make deals. And that's why Jesus Salazar is living the free life in Venezuela while a teenage girl lies dead, stabbed 26 times.

Like most teenagers, Felicia Ruiz was fired up about going to a Halloween party. It was late, about 11 o'clock on that Friday night by the time the 17-year-old finished her shift at KFC and walked through the front door of her parents' house in north Houston.

As she entered, the phone was already ringing. It was Jesus Salazar, a gang member whom Ruiz had befriended at Eisenhower Senior High School. Salazar had spoken to Ruiz that afternoon, urging her to go to the party, and now he was calling again to double-check she was still going.

She was.

Felicia Ruiz thought she was going to a party the night she died.
Photo courtesy of the Ruiz family
Felicia Ruiz thought she was going to a party the night she died.
Jesus Salazar posed for this mug shot before police let him go.
Jesus Salazar posed for this mug shot before police let him go.

Excited, Ruiz quickly changed out of her work clothes into a pair of khaki pants, black Nike sneakers and a black T-shirt with "Don't Ask Me Shit" written across the chest. She popped two plastic breast enhancers into her bra, tied her hair with a navy blue piece of elastic and was ready to party.

Ruiz's parents, Carrie and Lou, were hesitant to let their only daughter go out. After all, it was late, but Felicia assured them everything would be okay and that she would not stay out all night. All she wanted was to hang out with her friends for a little while.

Just before midnight, Ruiz and her parents heard someone out front honking a car horn. Carrie Ruiz decided to walk her daughter to the car.

"You gonna be all right?" she asked her daughter, recognizing Salazar and noticing a stranger sitting in the passenger seat of the burgundy Honda hatchback.

"Mom, I'll be fine," Felicia responded, slinging her arm around her mother's shoulder and giving her a little hug.

Just before Felicia disappeared into the backseat, she popped her head up over the roof of the car just to assure her mother one last time.

"I love you, Mom," she said.

And then they were gone.

Felicia did not know exactly where the party was, but she trusted Salazar despite his nickname "Trouble." Salazar drove them less than three miles from Ruiz's home to the Quail Creek Apartments where he lived and paid the stranger $20 — ten of which he borrowed from Felicia — for letting him use the car. As the stranger drove off, Salazar walked Ruiz toward the rear of the complex, through a gate, down the street and out into a vacant field.

It was unusually humid that night — even by Houston standards — as the two teens made their way across the grassy lot. Ruiz did not notice as Salazar began to lag a step or two behind. Off in the distance, Ruiz saw a familiar figure — it was Salazar's ex-girlfriend Lisa Huerta — standing next to a boy she did not recognize.

This was not the party she was ­expecting.

Suddenly, Salazar stepped forward and cracked Ruiz across the jaw with his fist. She never saw it coming. The blow shattered the bones in Ruiz's face, literally knocking the size 0, 112-pound girl off her feet.

Huerta and the other boy, Jay Ferrel, ran over to where Ruiz lay while Salazar barked out orders for them to hold Ruiz down. Huerta had already opened her folding buck knife, a gift from Salazar that she carried around in her purse and used to slice open cheap cigars before filling them with ­marijuana.

Ferrel straddled Ruiz's legs to keep her from kicking while Huerta hovered over her and pressed the blade against their victim's neck just as she and Salazar had rehearsed in a motel room earlier that day.

"I pushed it in," Huerta later testified in court. But the knife got "stuck."

Salazar then grabbed the dagger from Huerta's hand and began driving it into Ruiz's torso, some thrusts so powerful the knife ran completely through the slender girl into the dirt.

Fighting for her life, Ruiz struggled in vain to defend herself.

"Trouble, why are you doing this to me?" Ruiz managed to gasp in her baby voice.

Salazar did not respond and Huerta covered Ruiz's mouth to muffle her screams. According to Huerta, Ruiz's last word on earth was "Sorry."

After what seemed like forever, Salazar, now covered in blood, stopped and turned away.

But when he saw Ruiz was still alive and trying to turn over, Salazar returned and finished the job, knifing Ruiz several more times in her back. In all, he and Huerta stabbed Ruiz 26 times; they ­severed her jugular vein and punctured her heart and lungs.

Finally, when Ruiz could no longer move at all, Salazar, Huerta and Ferrel turned their back on Ruiz for the final time, leaving her all alone in the grass, bleeding to death.

Now, more than eight years later, both Huerta and Ferrel are serving lengthy prison sentences and have told police that Salazar was the ringleader. But Salazar has evaded any punishment.

A native of Venezuela, Salazar fled the United States to his home country shortly after the murder, and police believe he is still living there today. In Venezuela, Salazar is free, going to parties, dating girls and bragging about getting away with murder, according to what Carrie Ruiz says the FBI told her.

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