Man found guilty in robbery that resulted in death at La Placita store

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A federal grand jury returned a guilty verdict on a man accused of organizing armed robberies in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina with one of those robberies resulting in a homicide here.

Monday, a federal jury in Bowling Green returned a verdict convicting Jorge Santos Caballero Melgar, 36, formerly of Nashville, Tenn., of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery; conspiracy to use and carry firearms during and in relation to crimes of violence; interference with commerce by robbery in the March 17, 2017, robbery of La Placita in Bowling Green, Kentucky; murder through the use of a firearm during and in relation to the commission of a crime of violence; and illegal reentry into the United States after a previous deportation, Acting United States Attorney Michael A. Bennett said in a release.

Caballero Melgar was the last defendant in a case that originally charged a dozen individuals with perpetrating the violent robberies in which store employees were bound with duct tape and threatened at gunpoint while the store premises were searched for cash.

The robbery of La Placita in Bowling Green resulted in the shooting death of Jose Cruz, 31, who had arrived outside the store to pick up his young son who was inside while the robbery was in progress.

A feature of the charged robberies was that Caballero Melgar identified the locations to be robbed, drove co-conspirators to robbery sites, and stayed outside the store while in nearly constant cell phone contact with those inside during the robberies.

The evidence at trial established that in one instance, a bound store employee, unable to understand the Spanish speaking defendants, had a cell phone held to her ear over which the defendant demanded that she tell the robbers where the store’s money was located.  Five co-conspirators who had previously entered guilty pleas in the case testified at trial; their testimony was corroborated by cell phone location evidence offered through an FBI expert witness.

Finally, the evidence at trial also established that Caballero Melgar was a citizen of Honduras and had been deported from the United States in early 2015.  By no later than December 2016, he was back in the United States unlawfully leading a group that committed the multi-state robberies charged.

“These violent defendants are off the street because of the outstanding work of the FBI, the Bowling Green Police Department, and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners across six states,” Bennett said.  “This case is an extraordinary example of the dedication and teamwork our law enforcement partners bring to the table every day in the fight against violent crime.  I commend them for their work and thank them for making our communities safer.”

“Today brings to a close the spree of armed robberies that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander,” said FBI Louisville Special Agent in Charge Robert Brown. “Melgar and his previously convicted co-defendants demonstrated a penchant for violence and would have no doubt continued their path of carnage. FBI Louisville is proud of the role its agents and our law enforcement partners played in bringing these individuals to justice.”

The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced by Chief Judge Greg N. Stivers at 9 a.m. Aug. 2, at the U.S. District Courthouse in Bowling Green.   The charge of murder through the use of a firearm during a crime of violence for the death of J.C. at La Placita carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.  There is no parole in the federal system.