It’s been more than a decade since the body of 15-year-old Moriah Gonzalez was found discarded and burning in a field in Ennis, Texas. Police at the time said Moriah’s then-18-year-old friend had stabbed the girl to death, transported her body to the field, and set her remains ablaze, but authorities were unable to find the suspect for nearly 11 years.
The Ennis Police Department and the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office this week announced that the now-29-year-old Jennifer Samantha Puente had finally been arrested and booked into the Ellis County Jail. Puente has been charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of tampering or fabricating physical evidence with the intent to impair a human corpse in connection with Gonzalez’s death, court documents reviewed by Law&Crime show.
A witness found Gonzalez’s remains burning in a field on March 17, 2012, according to a press release from the DA’s office. Just days later, on March 22, investigators with the Ennis Police Department obtained a warrant to arrest Puente and her boyfriend, Joe Alvarado, for Gonzalez’s murder.
Alvarado was picked up shortly after the warrants were issued, but authorities were unable to locate Puente, believing she had fled the state.
In 2016, Ellis County authorities, in cooperation with Texas Rangers, discovered evidence that Puente had fled to Mexico, and the agencies began working with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice to secure a warrant for the arrest and extradition of Puente.
After several years, in October 2022, authorities in Mexico located Puente and placed her under arrest. Puente subsequently waived her extradition back to the U.S. and officials with the Texas Rangers, Ennis Police Department, and the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office traveled to Mexico and returned her to Ennis County last week.
If convicted on the murder charge, Puente faces a maximum of life in prison while the evidence tampering charge carries a maximum of 20 years.
“For almost 11 years, many public officials worked tirelessly to find and arrest Puente so that my office could seek justice for Moriah Gonzales,” Ellis County District Attorney Ann Montgomery said in a statement. “I want to specifically thank Texas Ranger Captain Jason Bobo, attorneys from the United States Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs, law enforcement officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, law enforcement officers from the Ennis Police Department, and former and current Assistant Ellis County and District Attorneys and Investigators. Their combined efforts led to the extradition and arrest of this fugitive.”
Following his arrest, Alvarado pleaded guilty to murder and evidence tampering charges. A judge in 2014 sentenced Alvarado to 34 years for the murder charge and 20 years for the tampering charge, to run consecutively, records show.
According to a report from Dallas Fox affiliate KDFW, the now-40-year-old Alvarado testified that he and Puente were both on drugs when Puente fatally stabbed Gonzalez before they both transported her body to the field in Ennis. As part of his plea deal, Alvarado is reportedly required to testify against Puente.
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