"This was not a crime of spontaneity. This was a premeditated and well-planned-out crime."
- Prosecutor Kevin Brooks
It was the 2nd of September 2015. A Wednesday. Thirty five year old Kendra Hatcher pulled into the parking garage at Gables Park 17. She lived there and it felt safe as there was a 24 hour concierge service and it was a vibrant and luxurious apartment block with a saltwater infinity pool, a fitness studio and a gourmet coffee bar in Uptown Dallas, Texas, United States. She grew up in Pleasant Plains, Illinois and studied dentistry there but moved to Dallas for work. She had recently accepted a job at Smile Zone. It seemed a perfect fit for her. Kendra had a strong Christian faith and wanted to use her skills as a Dentist to help others. Smile Zone offered high end dentistry to children from disadvantaged households.
In her spare time, Kendra taught Bible study and took part in volunteer programs which involved building Churches abroad and performing free dental work for children in Ecuador. Kendra's professional life was going from strength to strength and her personal life was blossoming too. Kendra was in a relationship with Dr Ricardo Ricky Paniagua. Ricky was completing a dermatology residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and even though they had only been in a relationship for a few months, they had already discussed marriage.
Kendra and Ricky met via the dating app Tinder and went on their first date on the 24th of May and from that very first date, they were inseparable. They both had similar values and wanted the same things in life.
Kendra Hatcher and Ricky Paniagua
That evening, the 2nd of September, Kendra drove into the parking garage to park her car after work. She got there at 7.42pm. It was something she did every day but she was excited for the weekend ahead as she had plans to spend that Labor Day weekend in Mexico with Ricky. But Kendra would never make it to Mexico. Just minutes after she drove into the parking garage, two men walking through the parking garage heard the sound of screams and shots fired.
After the shots were heard, a Jeep Cherokee was seen speeding out of the garage. Hashem Saad, who lived in the apartment complex, heard the screams and called 911. When police arrived, they found Kendra's body in the parking garage. She had been shot dead.
The initial thought was that it was a robbery as Kendra's Coach purse was missing. Bullet shards and a handgun magazine were found on the ground beside her body.
But as police investigated further and examined the scene, they thought the manner of the shooting did not suggest that is was a robbery. It seemed more like an execution style shooting. The gunshot residue found indicated that Kendra had her hands up and behind her head when she was shot. The entry wound came from the upper part of her head and the bullet exited through her chin.
But who would want to kill Kendra in an execution style shooting? By all accounts, she was well liked and helped anyone she could.
Police obtained the security cameras at Gables Park 17. The footage showed a Jeep Grand Cherokee entering the parking garage at 7.15pm. The footage showed Kendra returning home and driving into that same garage at 7.42pm. The footage captured a man walking towards Kendra's car and then that same man was captured on the footage returning to the Jeep. Police believed that that was the man who shot Kendra.
The footage revealed that there was another person involved. The driver of the Jeep was a woman and she drove out of the parking garage as soon as the man got back into the Jeep. But it wasn't clear enough to be able to identify them so police released images of the Jeep and the driver to the media and appealed to the public for help. That appeal worked. A man named Jose Luis-Ortiz contacted police and told them that the Jeep was his but that he wasn't involved in any shooting and wasn't driving it at the time of the murder.
Jose told police that on the morning of the 2nd of September, two friends of his named Brenda Delgado and Crystal Cortes asked if they could borrow his Jeep. He said that they told him that Crystal's car was having mechanical issues and they left the car with Jose for him to work on it and he gave them his Jeep to use in the meantime. They were supposed to drop the Jeep back to him that evening after work but instead Brenda asked him to meet him at a Chili’s restaurant that evening and he agreed. Crystal wasn't at the restaurant and neither was his Jeep. Jose told police that he was with Brenda at the restaurant at the time the shooting took place. The Jeep was returned to Jose's house later that night.
Jose had no idea that his Jeep would be used as a getaway car. He said that the first time he became aware of it was when he saw the appeal the police made and recognized his Jeep. He asked Brenda about it and she told him that it wasn't his Jeep but then later said that Crystal used it to go there to get drugs for somebody and probably something went wrong. Jose told police that Brenda urged him not to say anything as it was his Jeep and that he could “get in trouble with the police and risk his citizenship.” He felt that she was trying to manipulate him. According to Jose, Brenda suggested that he paint the Jeep a different color and she would pay for it. After speaking to Brenda, Jose reported the matter to the police.
Police spoke to Brenda and asked her about Kendra. Brenda told police that she had no idea who Kendra was and never saw her before. They asked her where she was at 7.42pm the night of the 2nd of September and Brenda told police that she was at a Chili’s restaurant with Jose and she showed them the receipts for the dinner.
Police asked her about Jose's Jeep. According to Brenda, she gave the Jeep to Crystal. Police questioned Crystal. She was a twenty three year old single mother. They asked her if she was the woman seen on the footage driving the Jeep. She confirmed that she was. She initially told police that an armed carjacker got into the Jeep and forced her to drive to the parking garage that night. She told police her nine year old son was with her. But the footage showed that there was no child in the car.
When police told her that, Crystal changed her story. She told police that there was no carjacking and she drove the man to the garage willingly but claimed that she thought it was just for a robbery. She insisted she knew nothing about the shooting. Police asked her why she agreed to drive there in the first place, even if she did believe it was for a robbery, and she told them that Brenda asked her to do it. Police asked her why Brenda would want to steal from Kendra and she told them that Kendra was dating Brenda's former boyfriend.
Police discovered that Brenda and Ricky dated on and off from 2012 until the beginning of 2015. When they separated, he began dating Kendra and Brenda wasn't happy. But Ricky had no idea that she was unhappy. He ended the relationship in February 2015 and dated other women. When he met Kendra in May, he knew it was serious, so he sent Brenda an email out of courtesy to let her know he was in a serious relationship. He didn’t tell her Kendra’s name and Brenda seemed fine and told him that she hoped they would remain friends.
As the questioning continued and the evidence mounted, Crystal wanted to make a plea deal and she agreed to testify in exchange for a shorter sentence. She told police that Brenda wanted Kendra dead and the murder was all her idea. According to Crystal, within two weeks of her meeting Brenda, they began planning Kendra's murder. Police discovered that Brenda wasn’t just unhappy that her relationship with Ricky was over, she was obsessed and desperate to get him back. She pretended to Ricky that she was happy being friends but her life had started to unravel. Her grades dropped and she missed work. She set about making it her full time job almost to get Ricky back. She cyber stalked both Kendra and Ricky and hacked Ricky's email and discovered plans they were making and trips they booked. She grew to resent Kendra. She believed that Kendra had taken her place. According to Crystal, she made up her mind that she “wanted to get rid of Kendra Hatcher.”
Brenda asked Crystal if she knew anyone who could help and Crystal agreed to help. They began making a plan to kill Kendra. They met up numerous times and devised multiple plans. The initial plan was to inject Kendra with heroin or a sedative and then they discussed shooting her. Brenda asked Crystal if she could find someone to do it or if she knew anyone as she was from a rundown area. They drove around and asked a number of people if they could help. They later met a man named Kristopher Love. He agreed to help and they discussed different ways that they could kill Kendra. They made a unanimous decision that the best way to kill her would be to shoot her as it would be fast.
Crystal told police that Brenda agreed to give her $500 and she agreed to give Kristopher money and drugs.
Crystal told police that they chose to kill Kendra on the 2nd of September as they were aware that Kendra and Ricky had plans for Labor Day weekend and would be leaving Dallas on the 3rd of September to go to Mexico for a vacation. Brenda believed they had to do it before then as she became aware that they made plans to move to San Francisco when they got back. Brenda knew about all of their plans and everything they did as she had loaded Ricky's iPhone account on to another phone and used that to track/stalk him.
Brenda told Crystal that she wanted the killing to look like a robbery gone bad.
To decide where to carry out the killing, Brenda and Crystal decided to follow Kendra to see what her movements were like on a regular and normal day for her. They followed her to work. They sat outside a Salvation Army and used binoculars to monitor her movements while she was at work. After work, they followed her back and discovered how best to gain access into the parking garage. They figured out that they could easily get inside if they parked in a visitor’s spot first and then followed another car into the garage.
They did that same routine for a few days to ensure that nothing changed. They were confident they knew exactly what Kendra would do on the 2nd of September. The three of them; Brenda, Crystal and Kristopher did one last run through the day before, on the 1st of September, and timed it. They stole gloves, syringes, disinfectant spray, and wipes from Kendra's workplace.
The next day, the 2nd of September, the plan was for Crystal and Kristopher to carry out the murder alone. Early that morning, Brenda and Crystal collected the Jeep from Jose and picked up Kristopher at a Jack in the Box. Brenda was dropped off at a library in Carrollton and Crystal and Kristopher went to Kendra's apartment complex alone.
When they got there, they waited across the street for thirty minutes or so and drove to Kendra's place of work. Crystal left to pick up her son and nephew from school and dropped them off with her grandmother. She drove back to Kendra's place of work and followed her when she left. They lost her in traffic and they got back first so they accessed the garage and waited for her there. As soon as Kendra drove in, Kristopher got out of the car. He was wearing gloves and approached Kendra with the gun and shot her as she got out of the car. According to Crystal, she didn't actually see the shooting but heard it.
They left and after Crystal dropped Kristopher home, she collected her son and later met Brenda at Jose's house where she dropped back his Jeep.
On foot of the deal Crystal made, she would be the star witness for the Prosecution. There would be two Trials. Kristopher and Brenda were charged with capital murder and their Trials were heard separately. In exchange for her testimony and her guilty plea to a murder charge, Crystal was sentenced to thirty five years in prison.
Police found a gun hidden in a side compartment in Kristopher’s car. The gun was the one used to shoot Kendra. Due to that, Kristopher was willing to talk. He told police that Brenda promised to pay him in both drugs and money and that he was hired by her to shoot Kendra.
Kristopher was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Before Brenda faced Trial, she went on the run for almost seven months. She was even featured on the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list. She was arrested in April 2016 in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Mexico agreed to extradite her but only on the basis that she would not face the death penalty. When she was extradited back to the United States, she was formally charged with capital murder. Her family and Ricky initially didn’t believe that Brenda could be involved. They knew her as a loving woman, wholesome, and someone who had good family and Christian values. Ricky told police that when he ended the relationship with her, they remained friends and he even sent her a text message the night Kendra was shot to let her know. She offered to help in any way she could.
Brenda pleaded not guilty and her Defense argued that she wasn't even there when Kendra was shot and had an alibi and receipts to prove she was at a Chili's restaurant at the time of the murder. But it was the Prosecution case that Kendra was killed as part of a murder for hire scheme orchestrated by Brenda. Brenda did not need to be there at the time of the shooting to be guilty of murder and could still be found guilty as she planned and orchestrated the entire thing and she was the person who hired Crystal and Kristopher to carry out the murder.
The Court heard that Brenda had a motive to want Kendra dead. She saw her as being an obstacle to getting what she wanted. It was her desire to be back with Ricky. The Court heard that in the months leading up to Kendra's death, Brenda had become increasingly obsessed with her and Ricky.
The Court heard testimony about that obsession from a number of people who knew Brenda. Her cousin, Moses Martinez, testified that Brenda was depressed after her relationship with Ricky ended. He testified that she offered to pay him if he hit Kendra with a baseball bat. He declined to do so.
Brenda's friend, Jennifer Escobar, testified that Brenda was “super obsessed with” and angry towards Ricky when he ended their relationship. She told the Court that Brenda would read through all of his emails and tracked his movements on her phone. She told the Jury that Brenda had even kept a copy of his house key and had access to his bank accounts. Jennifer testified that Brenda asked her to eliminate Kendra Hatcher. She told the Court that Brenda wanted her to either inject her with something fatal or use a bat and leave her in a coma. She told the Court that Brenda offered to give her $2000, a car and drugs if she would do it. Jennifer discussed the offer with her parents and then declined.
Ricky and Kendra
It was the Prosecution case that Brenda asked a number of people to help her before she finally found someone to agree. It was their case that she took advantage of Crystal. Crystal was a struggling single mother who made $11 per hour and she looked up to Brenda, a woman who had her own apartment and money, and wanted to be like her. The Court heard that she gave Crystal $500 and police found the ATM withdrawal receipt for that amount in her belongings. She also paid Kristopher. He was given a cash sum and $600 worth of marijuana and $300 worth of cocaine.
The Jury were told that Brenda was at Chili's the night Kendra was shot and went straight home afterwards. But the Jurors were shown footage from a surveillance video from Jose's neighbors house of the night of the murder and the footage showed that Brenda was at Jose's house after Chili's and she was there with Crystal and they exchanged the Jeep for the car.
The Court heard that cell phone data also placed her with Crystal and Kristopher before the murder and that Brenda and Crystal contacted each other ninety nine times over a two week period, from the 22nd of August to the 4th of September.
The Jury deliberated for just thirty minutes and found Brenda guilty. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
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