All charges against the suspect arrested in connection with the April deaths of two Henry County men found in a burning pickup truck in Spalding County have been bound over to Spalding County Superior Court.
Erik Eduardo Cabrealopez, 30, is being held without bond in the Spalding County Jail. He is facing two counts of murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of concealing a death, and two counts of tampering with evidence.
The ruling to send the charges to Superior Court and to hold Cabrealopez without bond was made by Spalding County Chief Magistrate Judge Rita Cavanaugh during a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Spalding County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Gerald Phillips was the only witness to testify during Tuesday’s hearing, which was also attended by members of the victims’ families.
Spalding County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a fire call at about 12:30 p.m. April 13 near the Spalding County-Butts County line. Upon arrival, deputies found a pickup truck parked inside a wood line and fully engulfed in flames. Spalding County firefighters found the two bodies in the bed of the truck as the flames were being extinguished.
The victims have been identified as Joshua Wyatt, 29, and Carlos Benford, 36. Both men were reported missing by their families in Henry County.
Phillips said there are conflicting stories as to why the two victims came from Henry County to a Dutchman Road house. One story has the two men looking to rent a venue for a rap concert. Another story is the victims were meeting a Hispanic female for the remodeling of a basement.
Phillips testified that Cabrealopez was using the name Hector Sanchez to rent a truck from a “longtime family friend” in Bremen in order to transport a boat, which was later discovered to be stolen. Cabrealopez’s mother lived in Carrollton at the time.
Hector Sanchez is allegedly the name of a friend of Cabrealopez who was killed.
Phillips said the suspect then called his friends in Bremen on April 13, reportedly stating that they needed to report the truck as stolen, “that it was gone.”
SCSO investigators believe the vehicle fire was intentionally set with a type of accelerant.
Tips began coming into the SCSO after the initial story was covered by local and Atlanta media. These tips led investigators to the house on Dutchman Road. Phillips said Cabrealopez’s name was on the lease of the home.
One witness told investigators Cabrealopez reportedly asked him to come to the Dutchman Road home to repair a truck and then called him inside to move two items “wrapped in black” from the back of the home. Phillips said the witness was reluctant to do so, but did assist in moving the two items.
Investigators executed a search warrant of the residence April 14. Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix said at the time that the residence had been vacated, but there was evidence of other individuals living in the home.
Furniture and other inside items from the house had been burned in a large pile in the back yard, Dix said, and the house’s interior had been sprayed with bleach in an apparent effort to destroy evidence.
Dix said investigators eventually found evidence of blood along with bags of cement in an area of the home, leading authorities to believe the residence was where the two men were killed.
Some members of the victims’ families became emotional as Phillips gave details of the two men’s deaths. Autopsy results are still pending.
GBI agents executed warrants to place a tracking device on a vehicle in Carrollton that was reportedly purchased by the suspect, Phillips said.
Cabrealopez was taken into custody April 15 on Courtland Avenue in Atlanta.
Phillips said Cabrealopez denied involvement in the deaths and gave conflicting stories regarding the Dutchman Road home. Phillips said the suspect said he was only at the home two or three times, though his name was on the lease.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Eli Bennett, Phillips said the GBI was able to determine Hector Sanchez was Cabrealopez through the use of various databases and a Facebook page. Phillips said a signature match between the suspect’s handwriting and the signature on the lease was not conducted.
Phillips also said the firearms believed to have been used in the deaths have not been discovered.
Bennett said there was not enough evidence for probable cause and no evidence to support the malice murder charge against his client.
“What we have at worst is an accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence,” Bennett said.
Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Marie Broder said the investigation into the case is ongoing and no motive has been established at this time. Broder acknowledged the case is circumstantial, but that all evidence reportedly points to Cabrealopez’s involvement.
Cabrealopez remains in the Spalding County Jail.