Serial killer sentenced to life in prison without parole

Johnny Joe Avalos pleads guilty to strangling 5 SA women

SAN ANTONIO – "Guilty" was the only word Johnny Joe Avalos said during his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning in 437th District Court.

Avalos, 31, admitted strangling five women and was charged with capital murder.

As part of a plea agreement, Judge Lori Valenzuela sentenced Avalos to life in prison without the possibility of parole in two cases.

Avalos has been labeled a serial killer, according to Texas capital murder laws, according to Bexar County Assistant District Attorney David Lunan.

"If you kill more than one person at different times pursuant to the same scheme and course of conduct, we call that the serial killer enhancement," Lunan said.

Lunan said the killings began Oct. 28, 2012, with the strangulation and sexual assault of Vanessa Lopez and ended April 15, 2015, with the slaying of Celia Lopez.

When the nude body of Natalie Chavez, 15, was found under a West Side bridge, Avalos' DNA was found on her body.  

Avalos' DNA matched the DNA found on the bodies of four other women who had been strangled and sexually assaulted, Lunan said.

The other victims were identified as Rosemary Perez, 28, whose body was found Jan. 12, 2015; Genevieve Ramirez, 46, whose body was found April 3, 2015; and Celia Lopez, 29, whose body was found April 15, 2015.

Lunan said that Avalos worked as a dishwasher in a West Side restaurant at the time the women were attacked.

"He'd walk around and prowl the streets of the West Side, and later the South Side, and he'd look for ladies, perhaps engaging in prostitution," Lunan said.

Several of the victims' family members addressed Avalos in open court with victim impact statements following his sentencing.

"That's what I'd been praying for, for him to have that (life in prison), because I don't believe in the death penalty," said Verlinda Guerrero, Vanessa Lopez's mother. 

Carlos Johnson, stepfather of Natalie Chavez also addressed Avalos in court.

"I thought it'd be satisfying, but it wasn't. Nothing's going to change," Johnson said after the hearing.

Lunan said that Avalos was given a mental exam and was found intellectually disabled, which led prosecutors to decide against seeking the death penalty.


About the Authors:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.