Greeley gang member among four convicted in federal prison murder

By Alexandra Pilarski
DENVER — Four inmates, including one former Greeley gang member, were convicted Tuesday in federal court of killing a fellow inmate three years ago in a Florence prison.The fatal assault of inmate Pablo Zuniga-Garcia in December 2008 at the Federal Correctional Institution in Florence was a planned attack, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.The defendants, Justin Hernandez, Juan Ruelas, Jose Pluma and Mark Rosalez, were members of the Mexican-American Sureños gang, according to court testimony. A jury convicted all four of second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit assault and possession of contraband in prison.

Pluma has an extensive record in Weld County and was a longtime Greeley gang member. He was arrested in October 2005 on a gun charge and again in 2006 on a federal warrant and was then booked into federal custody.

Pluma also has been named as a member of an alleged criminal enterprise involving the 18th Street Gang in Greeley, in which five Greeley gang members have been charged with violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. Their cases all are actively moving through the Weld District Courts.

In the federal affidavit, Hernandez, who is reportedly a Sureños leader in the FIC-Florence facility, believed Zuniga-Garcia was trying to turn gang members against him.

Four inmates entered Zuniga-Garcia’s cell the morning of Dec. 29, 2008, hit him with padlocks attached to belts, and kicked and beat him for several minutes, according to the affidavit.

Inmate Rafael Alvarado admitted to participating in the beating during the investigation, but he said he wasn’t trying to kill him.

“Alvarado said that at some point during the assault, he felt the ‘touch up’ was over and Zuniga-Garcia had received enough punishment,” the affidavit stated. He claimed that Zuniga-Garcia was still alive when he left the cell and “believed they were only supposed to assault him.”

Zuniga-Garcia died the same day from major head trauma as a result of assault.

The four will be sentenced on the convictions in August.

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