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.

"I get so angry," says Carrie Ruiz, "because they had Salazar in custody, they took a picture of his bruised hand where he hit our daughter, they knew he was with her that night and they just listened to his crap and let him go. They didn't bother to check and see if he was a citizen or not, so by the time the murder warrant came out, it was too late and he was gone."

By now, Salazar and Huerta knew it was only a matter of time before police caught up with them again, so they started making plans to get out of town.

Omar Medina, a former loss prevention officer for Fiesta supermarkets, testified in court that Salazar and Huerta came to see him one night during the week following Felicia Ruiz's murder. Medina lived in the same apartment complex as Salazar.

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.

Salazar told Medina that he was involved in a drive-by shooting and that the cops were looking for him. While Huerta stood outside of Medina's doorway crying, Salazar asked Medina either for a ride to Mexico or for some money. Medina refused to help, and the two fugitives were once again on their own.

Huerta and Salazar were able to scrape up $200 by pawning some jewelry, and then headed out of town.

According to what Carrie Ruiz says the FBI told her, Huerta's mother drove the two fugitives to San Antonio. Huerta and Salazar then took a bus south to Laredo. There, according to Huerta's testimony, they spent two nights on the street. At some point, Salazar spoke to his mother over the phone, and she told her son he was now officially wanted for murder. Huerta testified that Salazar's mother gave up her rent money to buy a pair of bus tickets for them to Miami. Carrie Ruiz says that Salazar's mother also sent her son's passport to relatives living in Miami for Salazar to pick up.

The two fugitives spent a little more than a week in South Florida before Salazar's father flew from Venezuela to Miami on a private jet under the guise of a business trip. He then took Salazar back to the sanctuary of his homeland, Venezuela.

Unfortunately for Huerta, while her former lover's future was looking brighter than ever, her ride on the fugitive express was about to end. Salazar's father would not take her along because she was a U.S. citizen, so Huerta made the long and lonely bus trip back to her hometown of San Antonio. She hid out there for a couple of months before finally getting a lawyer and turning herself over to the police.

Meanwhile, back in Houston, Medina ran into Ferrel five days after Salazar had come by asking for money. Ferrel and Medina also lived in the same building. Medina testified that Ferrel told him Salazar and Huerta had killed Felicia Ruiz. When Medina told Ferrel he needed to tell the police, Ferrel said no and told Medina not to say anything to anyone. But Medina could not keep quiet. He called the Houston police and warrants were quickly issued for Salazar and Huerta.

Huerta eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of murder in November 2001 and received a 30-year prison sentence. Ferrel was charged with murder within weeks after Huerta entered her guilty plea. She testified at his trial. Ultimately, a jury found Ferrel guilty of murder, sentencing him to 20 years in prison.

Walking into Carrie and Lou Ruiz's quiet suburban home in Humble is like entering a shrine.

Pictures of their daughter Felicia line the hallway and fill up nearly every shelf of every bookcase in the one-story house. An entire wall is blanketed with hanging crosses, the first of which was given to them by their priest just after the murder. The parents have saved every shred of clothing, every toy, letter, poem and Mother's Day card she ever wrote. Stacks of albums burst with photos of Felicia's first boy-girl dance and first communion, and of her standing next to her first ten-speed bike. Carrie sometimes wears her daughter's jewelry and has kept Felicia's favorite Disney videos, sunglasses and even her elementary-school globe.

Since the time they buried their daughter, Carrie and Lou Ruiz have gone to the cemetery every single day, rain or shine. The funeral workers even placed a stone bench beside the grave to make their visits more comfortable.

"For the first couple of years after Felicia's death," says Carrie Ruiz, "I blamed God and was real suicidal. There were days when Lou would come home and literally peel me off of the floor. I broke every dish in the house, the telephone; I'd just get so angry I'd start breaking things. Finally one day about two years afterwards, Lou just picked me up and grabbed me and was crying, 'I can't do this all by myself. If we're going to get justice, we need to do this together. I can't do it alone.'"

Lou Ruiz still heads off every morning as a department manager for Wal-Mart, but his wife has been unable to return to her job as a receptionist. She says she'd like to start working part-time after the New Year, either helping the elderly or possibly working for her school district.

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