The Taco Land murders and a death row interview: South Texas Crime Stories

Convicted murderer Joseph Gamboa gives first-ever interview from death row

It’s been 17 years since two men were brutally murdered at a well-known bar near downtown San Antonio called Taco Land.

As residents celebrated the Spurs’ third NBA Championship nearby, shots were fired inside the bar, killing owner Ramiro “Ram” Ayala and doorman Doug Morgan.

Ayala was shot in the stomach during in argument with one of the two suspects and then Morgan was shot trying to help another employee out. The suspects then fled the scene with only $200.

The loss of these two men has had a lasting impact on so many.

One of the men who was convicted for this crime, Joseph Gamboa, is now on death row.

For the first time he is speaking about his conviction and time on death row, but we before we get to his interview we need to tell you more about Ayala and Morgan.

Ram Ayala and Taco Land’s impact on the San Antonio music scene

Illustration courtesy Ryan Parker (Ryan Parker)

Taco Land was a rugged place, but if you were a fan of music, it was the spot to see live performances.

“It was very funky, like a psychedelic pirate ship,” musician Erik Sanden said.

Sanden and his friend Odie played often at Taco Land and were also good friends with Ayala.

“He was a great guy,” Odie said. “Fatherly at times and brotherly at times.”

Ram Ayala with musician Odie photo courtesy Erik Sanden (Erik Sanden)

Since the murders, Taco Land has never been the same and it has left a void in the San Antonio music scene.

“There’s lots of places to play now, but it doesn’t feel the same,” Odie said.

“It took a long time for us to recover as a band and be able to just be a rock band again,” Sanden said.

Not only is Taco Land missed but also Ayala.

“We’re still in mourning, it’s a gaping void,” Odie said.

“Nothing last forever, I miss you Ram,” Sanden said.

Remembering Doug Morgan

Doug Morgan Courtesy Erik Sanden. (Erik Sanden)

He was known as Gypsy Doug and was the doorman at Taco Land for many years.

“He would have done anything for Ram and vice versa,” his friend and former roommate Claude Morgan said.

Doug Morgan and Ramiro "Ram" Ayala photo courtesy: Claude Morgan (Claude Morgan)

The two met at Claude Morgan’s shows as Doug was a fan of music.

“He would come to our show and he would do this crazy Doug dance in front of the band,” Claude Morgan said. “We all just loved him.”

According to witnesses the night of the shooting, Doug was shot as he attempted to save another coworker, Denise Koger.

While Koger was still hit, Claude Morgan believes Doug pushing her down is probably what saved her life.

Claude Morgan was not surprised by that move, as Doug always thought of others first.

His life and memory one never to be forgotten.

“A really good friend and I miss him,” Claude Morgan said.

Death Row interview with convicted killer

Inmate on death row for double murders at Taco Land claims innocence in first-ever interview

“I had nothing to do with this crime,” Joseph Gamboa told KSAT 12 from death row in Livingston, Texas, earlier this month.

Gamboa was found guilty in 2007 and sentenced to the death penalty for the double murder and robbery of Taco Land.

For the first time, Gamboa is speaking about that night — and denying any involvement.

“I was there, I never denied that,” Gamboa said. “I played a game of pool, bought a beer and left, that was it.”

Gamboa goes on to say he was inaccurately identified as a suspect, claiming that surviving victim Denise Kroger said the person who committed the crime was 5′7, 190 pounds, which he is not.

Also, Gamboa said he wasn’t happy with how his trial played out.

He said that multiple times his attorneys tried to file for a mistrial because of what he claims were inconsistencies with the police investigation.

“If you go back and you were to look at the audio, video from my trial from the beginning to the end, you would see all this injustice,” Gamboa said.

KSAT12's Erica Hernandez joins GMSA@9 to discuss convicted murderer Joseph Gamboa's first-ever interview from death row.

As for Gamboa’s accomplice in this crime, Jose Najera took a plea deal and was given a 50-year prison sentence.

When asked about his thoughts about Najera taking a plea deal, Gamboa said he couldn’t speak for his actions.

“I cannot speak on whether he did or not,” he said.

We couldn’t reach out for an interview with Najera — he died in jail in 2015.

Gamboa’s trial testimony revealed that he and Ayala got into an argument and then Gamboa shot him in the stomach.

He and Najera then robbed the place, shooting Morgan and Koger in the process.

They left with only $200 but were arrested days later.

Gamboa is currently on his fourth appeal seeking a retrial in his case.

For now, he waits for the day he either is granted that retrial or an execution date.

“I’m just going to leave this in the hands of God, you know, and just let him guide the way like he has,” Gamboa said.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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