Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joey Cornel

The murder of a relative is always traumatic. But that pain is compounded when the suspect flees to a country that will not extradite him. 

"I thought about hiring someone to go down there and take care of him," Las Vegan Ron Cornell said of the man accused of killing his 16-year-old son, Joey. "That crossed my mind several times." 

On July 16, 1998, Joey Cornell arrived with two of his friends at his mother's home near Charleston and Lamb boulevards. 

As they left a car, a van pulled alongside the vehicle. Shots were fired, and Cornell was killed instantly. His buddies survived. 

Police within hours identified Gonzalo Villalobos, then 37, as the suspect. 

Detectives said he was angered by an ongoing dispute that started when his son was arrested on allegations that he seduced a juvenile in Cornell's family. 

Police soon learned Villalobos had slipped across the Mexican border and was hiding in Mexico and El Salvador. 

At one point, detectives even discovered exactly where he was living in El Salvador, but were powerless because there is no extradition cooperation between that country and the United States.
"We knew he was living his life as he wanted with his family, while we weren't, while my son was gone," Ron Cornell said. 

But in the summer of 2000, authorities got a break when the case was featured on "America's Most Wanted." 

Within hours, FBI agents arrested Villalobos in Great Neck, N.Y., where he had been working as a cook. 

He was returned to Las Vegas and is scheduled to go to trial next month on a murder charge. 

"He never would've faced justice if he would've stayed down there," Ron Cornell said. "He would've gotten away with killing my son."

A little more than two years ago Ron Cornell stood in the street screaming a promise to his 16-year-old son, who was lying shot to death 50 feet away on the pavement.

"He was lying out there face down, and all I could do was scream out that his death wouldn't be in vain and that I'd get him justice," Cornell said.

The first step in keeping his promise was realized Thursday, Cornell said, when he got a phone call from Metro Police saying that the suspect in the July 16, 1998, slaying of Joey Cornell had been arrested and charged with murder with a deadly weapon.

Gonzalo Hernandez Villalobos, 39, was arrested early Thursday in Great Neck, N.Y., where he had been working as a cook, and he now awaits extradition back to Las Vegas, Metro homicide Sgt. Rocky Alby said.

Police had identified Villalobos as the suspect in the case shortly after the shooting, and a warrant was issued for his arrest a week later, but Villalobos had disappeared. Police, FBI and INS agents have worked to find Villalobos ever since, with Ron Cornell constantly reminding them that the suspect in his son's homicide was still at large.

"I'd just call and try to see how the investigation was going," Cornell said. "I called a lot, but I thought maybe I could remind them of something they didn't know or missed. I guess I just wanted them to know I wasn't going anywhere, and I wanted to find this guy."

Cornell was on the way out the door to work Thursday morning when he got the call he'd been waiting on for two years and 10 days.

"I was ecstatic," Cornell said. "It took a major load off my shoulders and off our family."

Dawn Cornell, Ron's ex-wife and Joey's mother, couldn't contain her emotions when she found out about the arrest while at work at a Wells Fargo Bank.

"I almost didn't believe it when Ron called," Dawn Cornell said. "I started crying and screaming, 'they got him,' and then all my co-workers were hugging me."

Authorities believe that Joey Cornell's death was tied to a series of arguments between residents in the 4600 block of Arizona Avenue, a neighborhood near Lamb and Charleston boulevards. Ron Cornell says that the disputes were the result of his allegations to police that a member of the Villalobos family had made inappropriate contact with a juvenile member of his family.

Ron Cornell says those arguments ended tragically on the night of July 16 when a hail of bullets hit a car his son and three friends were in.

"Joey and his girlfriend and two of their friends were leaving the house after swimming and ice cream when it happened," Cornell said.

Witnesses told police that Villalobos trailed the group for a short distance in a car before shooting at them. Two of the other teens in the car also were hit by gunfire, but survived. Joey Cornell's girlfriend was uninjured.

Joey Cornell, a football and baseball player, was preparing for his junior year at Las Vegas High School when he was killed.

"He had gotten into some typical teenager trouble before, but he had a 3.0 grade point average and was looking forward to school," Ron Cornell said. "He had a good job as a busboy at a restaurant in the Boulder Station, and he talked about going to culinary school.

"He and his girlfriend, Jennifer, were making plans and talking about getting married."

Dawn Cornell still visits her son's grave every day after work, remembering the way he went out of his way to be there for his family.

"He was always concerned about making sure he spent time with everyone," Cornell said. "Since we were divorced, he always wanted to make sure that he spread himself out and saw everyone.

"He wasn't the typical teen that didn't want to be around his family. He loved to hug and kiss and show affection."

Ron Cornell, who serves as vice president of the support group Families of Murder Victims, says he doesn't think he'll ever completely be able to move on from what happened to his son.
"People ask me about closure, but there will never be closure, because there's always going to be a birthday or a Father's Day," Cornell said. "But I think there can be justice.

"We've got a long way to go with the justice system, but right now I think we're just going to savor this."

Gonzalo Hernandez-Villalobos, age 39, now living in Mexico.

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