Nearly 20 years after the murder of a 20-year-old Columbus man, the killers were convicted.
Jurors in San Diego found Edward Jesus Elias and Leopoldo Castro Chavez, both 36, guilty of first-degree murder charges in the Sept. 25, 1993 murders of 20-year-old Eugene “Cliff” Ellis, of Columbus, and Keith Combs, 23, both U.S. Navy sailors stationed aboard the USS Constellation. Additionally, the jurors found the murders were committed during a robbery, with a special-circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
“This is absolutely joyful,” Ellis’ mother, Muffy, said this morning of the verdict, which jurors decided in San Diego, Calif. “The jury listened to the experts very carefully; this was a technical case. The jury did the right thing. After 19 years, justice has been served.”
Elias and Chavez, who were both 17 at the time of the murders, face life in prison, without the possibility of parole, and will be sentenced May 11.
Officials said Elias and Chavez robbed Ellis — a 1991 graduate of Heritage Academy, whom prosecutors said struggled with his killers — and Combs of their wallets and Ellis’ Toyota pickup truck. Both victims were shot three times at close range.
Chavez was caught in Tijuana, Mexico four days after the murder, driving Ellis’ truck, but authorities did not have enough evidence to connect him to the murders.
The case remained cold, until 2009 when biological material tied Chavez and Elias to the scene of the crime.
Chavez was arrested in July 2010 and prosecutors said Elias was arrested in April 2011.
Muffy Ellis said Chavez and Elias were affiliated with a San Diego-area gang, which made solving the case more difficult.
“We knew they were gang members,” Muffy Ellis said, “and this made it very difficult for the authorities to catch them. Gang members won’t talk; they have a code of silence. But we never gave up. There were several people who told me to never give up hope. I just knew in my heart that something would happen and my son’s killers would be convicted. They got away with it for 19 years and felt nothing. All they wanted was to get away with (the murders).”