A fugitive who was on the lam for 15 years made his initial court appearance Monday on charges of gunning down a man in Tustin over a financial dispute.
Arraignment was rescheduled to June 1 for Juan Palacios, 59, who’s being held without bail.
He was ordered extradited in March from his native El Salvador and was returned to Orange County on Thursday, said Tustin police Lt. Bob Wright.
Palacios, whose occupation is listed as a mechanic in jail records, is accused of fatally shooting 32-year-old Mario Cano Santamaria on Jan. 5, 2003, over a dispute that was financial in nature, Wright said. Palacios went to Santamaria’s apartment complex in the 16600 block of Alliance Avenue with a group of other people, and police were called to the scene about 1 a.m. on a report of gunfire, he said.
Santamaria was found mortally wounded on the ground in a courtyard of the apartment complex.
Santamaria had apparently loaned money to Palacios and the two got into an argument at work about the debt hours before the shooting, Wright said. Investigators suspect Palacios went to his co-worker’s apartment to continue the argument over the loan, he said.
Tustin detectives have a policy of checking up on cold cases at least once a month, and it paid off in this case as authorities tracked the suspect to El Salvador, Wright said. In 2014, El Salvador was asked to extradite Palacios, who was arrested in December 2016 and had been fighting extradition since then.
Santamaria’s family was “very happy” and “relieved” to hear of Palacios’ arrest on the murder charge filed in 2004, Wright said.
If convicted, Palacios would face at least 25 years to life in prison, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
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