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THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW
Suspect in 20-Year-Old California Murder Case Apprehended in the Philippines

08/23/04

Map of PhilippinesIt was a horrific crime: 20 years ago this month, Lilian Ocampo Zuniga was stabbed to death in front of her 5-year-old son inside a grocery store she owned in South Lake Tahoe, California. She suffered more than 30 stab wounds.

The prime suspect? Her ex-husband--Geronimo Mendoza Zuniga--reportedly angry at the break-up of their marriage and her remarriage.

Shortly after the murder, El Dorado County authorities issued an arrest warrant for Zuniga, but he had already fled the country and was believed to be back in his native Philippines.

A federal arrest warrant was then issued, bringing the FBI into the case, but absent an extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines, it looked as though justice for Lilian Zuniga would not be possible.

The turning point in the case? Actually, there were two:

  • An extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines was signed in the mid-1990s (ultimately triggering an extradition request for Zuniga by El Dorado County authorities)
  • A Filipino National Police (FNP) officer who simply would not give up on the case.

Policing at its best. It was spring of 2004 when that FNP officer traveled to California to attend an FBI-sponsored training course and to coordinate one of his cases with the Los Angeles and San Francisco FBI Offices. This officer was no stranger to us--he'd already worked a successful case with the FBI's Assistant Legal Attache in Manila. While in California the officer heard about the Zuniga case. He contacted us and pledged his assistance to find Zuniga. Throughout the years, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and the FBI had continued to work the case and develop leads of sightings on Zuniga in the Philippines--they shared this information with the FNP officer.

The payoff. And the officer was true to his word. With the assistance of our Legal Attache Office in Manila--the Filipino National Police and the National Bureau of Investigations located Zuniga and took him into custody--nearly 20 years to the day after his former wife's brutal murder. Extradition arrangement are currently underway.

Our thanks again to our partners in the Philippines. Working together, making a difference.