The murder weapon was concealed in something as innocuous as a plastic foam coffee cup.
“This was a bomb with a sufficient enough explosion, designed to kill,” Deputy District Attorney Eckley Keach said as he held a similar cup and showed jurors the device inside. “And that’s what it did.”
Attorneys presented closing arguments Thursday in the retrial for Omar Rueda-Denvers, whom prosecutors say conspired to build a metal pipe bomb to kill his ex-girlfriend and her new lover.
Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio, 27, died in the explosion when he unwittingly picked up the bomb atop his car after his shift at the Luxor. Caren Chali, the mother of Rueda-Denvers’ then-3-year-old daughter, was miraculously unhurt in the blast.
The 2007 killing initially stoked fears of a possible terrorist attack on the Strip, but investigators quickly zeroed in on two suspects.
Rueda-Denvers, now 45, and his friend Porfirio Duarte-Herrera were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty.
In 2019, a federal judge granted Rueda-Denvers a new trial, ruling that he was unable to cross-examine his co-defendant, whose incriminating statements to police were presented to the jury.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Hamner on Thursday called the murder “the oldest motive in the book.”
“He is a jealous ex-lover,” he said, pointing at the defendant. “The connection to all of this evidence, all of these people, is this guy. Omar Rueda-Denvers.”
‘He didn’t have his fingers’
On Thursday, Rueda-Denvers sat in court wearing a gray suit. A Guatemala native, he listened to the duration of the trial with the aid of a Spanish interpreter.
Prosecutors painted him as a jealous ex-lover who was obsessed with Chali and once watched from a distance as Chali and Antonio had sex in a car in the Luxor parking lot.
Chali testified that she met Rueda-Denvers, who is also known as Alexander Perez, in Guatemala in 2001 and became pregnant with his child. The relationship continued until 2006.
She came to the U.S. to be with Rueda-Denvers, who soon told her to move out because he had another girlfriend. She said she had no friends or family in the country and was upset and jealous, but moved on and began dating Antonio, a Mexican national who worked two jobs to send money home.
Antonio’s wife and 1-year-old son had moved to Las Vegas shortly before his death, relatives previously told the Review-Journal.
Chali said that in August 2006, Rueda-Denvers — a name authorities believe is an alias and actually belongs to an acquaintance of his — began coming to her workplace and asking her to come back to him.
Jurors watched surveillance video that showed a silver Chevrolet Cobalt drive around the rooftop and park next to Antonio’s vehicle. Another black-and-white surveillance video showing Antonio and Chali walking arm-in-arm to the parking garage.
Seconds later, video showed a nearly panoramic view of the roof of the parking garage. It was dark. Vehicles were parked all around. In the top right corner, two people were about to enter a car.
A shock of white flashed in the upper right corner of the video.
Chali told jurors that Antonio joked that someone had left coffee for the couple before he picked it up. Seconds later, it exploded and sent shrapnel flying into his skull.
“On his hand, he didn’t have his fingers,” she said through a Spanish interpreter.
Custody dispute defense
Prosecutors argued that the defendant was the only person who knew both victims and their work schedules and had admitted to driving to the Luxor parking garage that night.
Though bomb materials were found at Duarte-Herrera’s house, the same type of Eveready battery used to ignite the bomb was found in Rueda-Denvers’ work shed.
But Rueda-Denvers’ attorney, Christopher Oram, argued that Duarte-Herrera was a “weirdo” who had a history of bomb making.
His client had only worked in that shed for a month, and the bomb was made three months before, he said.
Oram, who also represented Rueda-Denvers at the first trial, said his client followed Chali because she was keeping his daughter away from him. Rueda-Denvers is undocumented and felt he had few legal options.
“He can’t go to divorce court, so he thinks this will be my way,” Oram said.
That night, he was under the impression they were leaving a GPS tracking device on the car, Oram said. He told police he would have stopped his friend if he knew it was a bomb.
He didn’t tell police that he thought it was a tracking device because he thought they were tricking him, Oram said.
“An innocent man died, and that’s the real tragedy,” Oram told the jury as he walked over to his client, who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall. “I would ask you that you find this innocent, beaten down, little man not guilty.”