An illegal immigrant has pleaded guilty in a Harris County court to murdering a woman in 2003 and leaving her body in wooded area in Tomball, but the victim’s family is upset about the sentence.
Joel Guadalupe Sanchez, 34, pleaded guilty in Judge Susan Brown’s courtroom Sept. 12, after a plea bargain was reached with Harris County prosecutors. Brown sentenced Sanchez to 10 years behind bars.
Tomball investigators were able to tie Sanchez to the murder of Sandra Williams last year, after a state DNA check received a hit from evidence entered by the Tomball Police Department.
Williams’s body was found by a witness who had been flying a remote control plane around the 900 block of Persimmon. The witness notified Tomball Police.
Williams’s body was savagely beaten and she was tied up. A sledgehammer with her blood was found nearby.
“The body was bound and it appeared there was trauma to the head,” Tomball detective Gary Hammond said. “We recovered DNA off the body.”
After forensic evidence was collected, Hammond tried to find out information about the victim and her connection to Tomball. He hit a brick wall.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “No one could give me a tie to the Tomball area.”
Hammond kept in touch with the victim’s mother Lula Washington and the victim’s daughter Crystal Williams, even as the case grew cold over the years. Both of the family members reside in North Carolina.
“I told (Washington) at the beginning that we would find the person responsible and she reminded me of that every time we talked,” Hammond said.
The case remained cold until 2010, when Hammond received a phone call that a prison inmate, who underwent required DNA testing, had come back as a match to DNA found at the crime scene. That inmate was Joel Sanchez.
Hammond then went to the prison unit where Sanchez was incarcerated and obtained a saliva sample. That DNA test also proved a match.
“He said he didn’t know (the victim),” Hammond recalled. “Saying you don’t know someone isn’t a plausible reason for why their DNA was found on the victims body.”
Another break came when the girlfriend of one of Williams acquaintances said that Sanchez came to their home looking for Williams.
“She said that (Sanchez) came by their house looking for Williams,” Hammond said. “He was really mad because she had taken his car and had not returned it.”
A connection to Tomball was established when Hammond learned that Sanchez had family that lived near the crime scene.
That evidence was enough to pursue charges of murder against Sanchez last May.
Sanchez’ lawyer, Monica Gonzales, said the decision to plead guilty was his alone.
“He pled guilty,” Gonzales said. “The evidence against him was only circumstantial, but it was his choice to plead guilty.”
While Williams’ family is satisfied that their loved one’s killer was caught, they are upset with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office nonetheless.
“At least they got the person that did it,” Washington said. “I thought he should do more years though.”
Both Washington and Williams said no one from the district attorney’s office contacted them to ask about the plea bargain, or to tell them when a court date would be.
“I thought they would call because we planned to be there, but we didn’t hear anything from them,” Washington said. “The only way I found out is because Mr. Hammond called to tell us.”
“I want to know why he killed her,” she added. “Why did he do the things he did to her?”
Williams agreed with her grandmother.
“He didn’t just shoot my mom,” she said. “He brutally murdered her and gets 10 years? It’s not right. They knew that I kept up with the case all these years and they never contacted me.”
She blames the system for several cracks, including that Sanchez is an illegal immigrant.
“This dude --- this illegal immigrant --- he’s a terrorist too,” she said. “He came here, killed a United States citizen and he will be out by the time I’m 35.”
The district attorney’s office did not return repeated calls for comment before press time.
“I would like to know how he knew my mom and why he did what he did,” Williams said. “My mom has three grandchildren she will never meet.”