VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL (RNN) - Three suspects have been charged in the 2017 death of an Army veteran in what the sheriff's department calls a "planned execution" to stop the man from testifying about a road rage case.
After a nearly yearlong investigation, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office arrested 24-year-old Benjamin Bascom, 28-year-old Kelsey McFoley and 21-year-old Melissa Rios-Roque on charges of first-degree murder, according to a department press release.
"This is one of the most heinous, despicable, cowardly acts that I've ever witnessed," Sheriff Michael Chitwood said in a Friday news conference. "Somebody's gonna pay the ultimate price."
Authorities say the three suspects were involved in the November 2017 death of 60-year-old Carlos Cruz-Echevarria. They say Bascom's phone records revealed he killed the man after McFoley told him how to carry out the alleged murder.
According to the press release, Cruz-Echevarria, who was an Army veteran, was killed when he offered to help Bascom move a broken-down car stuck in the grass along a road near his home.
DNA evidence linked Bascom to the car.
"I've been a cop for 32 years and this is one of the most heinous, despicable, cowardly acts that I've ever witnessed," Chitwood said. "Carlos did not deserve to die."
The sheriff's department believes the crime was a "planned execution" intended to stop Cruz-Echevarria from testifying against McFoley in a road rage case.
The road rage incident happened in May 2017 when Cruz-Echevarria pulled up at a red light behind McFoley, according to the press release.
Detectives say the victim honked at and passed by McFoley when he didn’t go through a light after it turned green.
McFoley then allegedly pulled up next to Cruz-Echevarria at another intersection, asked if he had a problem and pointed a gun at him.
The 28-year-old was later arrested and faced several charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Because McFoley had a previous criminal history, these charges could have meant significant prison time if he was convicted, according to the press release.
Cruz-Echevarria, who was able to identify McFoley, was supposed to be deposed in December 2017, but he was killed before that.
"A road-rage incident where a man does what he's supposed to do: notify the police, cooperate with the system, and his thanks was to end up with multiple bullets in his head," Chitwood said in the news conference.
Detectives say McFoley’s girlfriend Rios-Roque was an accomplice in the crime. According to the 28-year-old’s phone records, the two had discussed the shooting and plans to pick up Bascom afterward.
“This tragedy cost our community a good man who was loved by his family and respected by his neighbors,” Chitwood said. “My heart is with Carlos' family and friends and everyone in the VCSO family who played a role in bringing these murderers to justice.”
Chitwood said at the news conference he hopes the three defendants get the death penalty, the Washington Post reports.
Prosecutors will be talking to Cruz-Echevarria’s family to decide how to move forward in the case.