FORT WORTH — A 30-year-old Mexican national serving his third stint in federal prison for entering the United States illegally has been charged with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of a Fort Worth auto shop owner in 2007.

Juan Eduardo Meraz-Flores was serving a 30-month federal prison sentence in Beaumont for illegal entry after deportation when Fort Worth police received a tip of his possible involvement in the Jan. 31, 2007, fatal shooting of Jose “Martin” Muñoz.

Muñoz, a married father of three and owner of an auto shop, was shot in the head at his East Rosedale Street business after an argument with a customer regarding a tire rim.

The Star-Telegram recently highlighted Muñoz’s unsolved murder in its “Out of the Cold” podcast, which explores solved and unsolved cold cases in North Texas.

Fort Worth police Detective Jeremy Rhoden said Monday that forensic comparisons between Meraz-Flores and physical evidence in the slaying have since linked the federal inmate to the crime. He declined to elaborate.

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Court records show Tarrant County prosecutors filed a murder charge against Meraz-Flores in the case on Nov. 27.

The charge has brought mixed emotions to the Munoz family.

Viviana Munoz-Cardoso, Munoz’s oldest daughter, said the family feels sadness over the suspect’s young age, anger because of his criminal history and cautious optimism that a suspect has finally been charged and that’s he already behind bars.

“We know that this is really good big step, and we’re happy for that,” Munoz-Cardoso said. “But at the same time, we’re really cautious in feeling too excited because we know there’s still a long way to go.”

The crime

Muñoz had migrated to the United States from Mexico, working several jobs to support his growing family and relatives back in his home country and eventually opening his own auto and tire shop.

Police have said the shooter arrived at Muñoz’s business on East Rosedale Street in a pickup driven by a second man, wanting to get rims changed out on two wheels.

After the work was done, however, the shooter complained one of the rims had been damaged and an argument over payment followed. Muñoz said he was going to call the police when the shooter pulled out a gun and shot him once in the head.

The shooter and the pickup’s driver then fled the scene.

Rhoden said investigators through the years had been provided snippets of information from witnesses about a possible suspect in the case, including the first name “Juan,” but had been unable to identity the man.

Rhoden said he identified Meraz-Flores as the possible suspect after researching a 2016 tip from a man who provided a few additional clues to Juan’s identity.

“We did some research and were able to locate the person that he was speaking about and verify that that was the individual he was talking about,” Rhoden said. “And then using evidence that we had, we did some forensic testing and were able to connect that person with the offense.”

Meraz-Flores, it turned out, was already behind bars in a medium security federal prison in Beaumont. He was scheduled to be deported again in February.

Rhoden went to question him, but the inmate claimed he knew nothing about Muñoz’s murder.

He is now on a detainer in the Muñoz case, awaiting extradition to the Tarrant County Jail.

Long criminal history

Tarrant County criminal records show Meraz-Flores was previously convicted in 2005 of two charges of engaging in organized crime in connection with a December 2004 gang-related shooting.

According to court documents, Meraz-Flores was accused of shooting one man and threatening two others with a gun “with the intent to establish, maintain or participate as a member of a criminal street gang.”

In a plea bargain reached with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in April 2005 to two of the three engaging in organized crime charges in exchange for a sentence of nine months in state jail.

After serving his sentence, Meraz-Flores was deported to Mexico in October 2005 — the first of three deportations he would face.

He was arrested again in the U.S. in June 2008 after federal agents, looking for a different man, pulled over a Chevy Malibu he was driving in Fort Worth.

He was charged federally with re-entry after deportation and later pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison. Upon his release, he was again deported to Mexico, in November 2009.

More arrests in 2011, 2014

Meraz-Flores, now using the name “Eduardo Flores”, was arrested again in June 2011, this time by Fort Worth police, on charges of reckless driving, failure to identify and possession of marijuana.

He pleaded guilty to a count of re-entry after deportation and was sentenced in April 2012 to 16 months in federal prison.

He was deported again in February 2014, after his release from prison, only to be arrested in Fort Worth again four months later, in July 2014, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Fort Worth officers.

He again pleaded guilty to re-entry after deportation and was given 30 months in federal prison in January 2015.

That the suspect had been deported multiples times — including before her father’s fatal shooting — only to later return is especially troubling to Muñoz-Cardoso.

“I just felt really, really upset about him just coming in and out of the country like whenever he wants,” she said. “That makes me feel like he has no respect for authority. It also makes me think he has resources to just kind of come and go as he pleases. Apparently, these deportations have done nothing for him.”

It is a far contrast, she said, from the families that she has helped while working at a nonprofit agency in immigration services.

“Working with immigration, we see people who are here … trying their best to provide for their families and do whatever they can to provide for their family here and in Mexico,” Muñoz-Cardoso said.

“And he (Meraz-Flores) just doesn’t seem to have any of that conscience for himself or his family. He just seems to be wanting to cause trouble and not do any good.”

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