Murder victim's body found in 55-gallon barrel; suspect's trial begins

George Pena shot, slit throat of Juan Ramiro Martinez, prosecutors say

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SAN ANTONIO – A prosecutor told a jury Wednesday that while police initially questioned a murder suspect, detectives checked his backyard and noticed boots protruding from a 55-gallon barrel.

"He looked further in and saw legs attached to those boots," prosecutor Brandon Ramsey said. "Worst case scenario, a person is dead."

Ramsey said the suspect, George Pena, 42, accused the victim, Juan Ramiro Martinez, of stealing from him and the two began fighting.

Pena had a rifle and Martinez had a knife, Ramsey said. Martinez, 43, was found in the barrel with seven gunshot wounds and his throat slit.

Related: Suspect admits to killing 43-year-old man, stuffing him in 55-gallon drum, affidavit says

Pena's lawyer, John Economidy, said that his client was holding his rifle when Martinez began to pull on the barrel.

"It's not George that causes the firing of the gun, it's Mr. Martinez," Economidy said.

After stuffing Martinez's body in the barrel, Pena tried to burn some evidence and solicited a woman to help him move the body, Ramsey said.

The woman refused and called police, Ramsey said.

Related: Man arrested in connection with body found in backyard

If Pena is found guilty, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday in Judge Kevin O'Connell's 227th District Court.

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