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One of OC’s most wanted fugitives gets 40 years to life for killing co-worker over $60

A man who shot and killed a co-worker during an argument over $60 in Tustin and then fled to El Salvador, where he spent 15 years as one of Orange County’s most wanted fugitives, was sentenced Friday, Aug. 26, to 40 years to life in state prison, a court official said.

Juan Antonio Palacios, 63, was convicted of second-degree murder in March, with the jury finding true a sentencing enhancement for personal use of a firearm in the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Mario Cano Santamaria in the courtyard of a Tustin apartment complex in January 2003.

Both men worked as security guards at Salon Guadalajara in Santa Ana and had argued at the business hours before the shooting, according to court filings.

The night of the argument, the business owner gave Palacios $60, but he felt he was being short-changed for the work he had done. Santamaria joined the argument and asked Palacios to give him the money to pay back a loan, prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Palacios crumpled the money and threw it, prosecutors said. Santamaria then picked it up and kept it.

Later that night, a man drove Palacios to Santamaria’s apartment to get his money back, prosecutors said. Palacios knocked loudly, then grabbed Santamaria and pulled him out of the apartment. Minutes later, a gunshot was heard and Santamaria’s wife found him bleeding in the courtyard.

Palacios fled and threatened to kill the driver if he were to say anything. Palacios later persuaded his brother to give him a ride to the border, citing problems with his wife, prosecutors said.

The FBI found him in El Salvador and in 2014, and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office made a formal extradition request through the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was arrested in December 2016 and brought back to the United States in March 2018.

Prosecutors said during trial that Palacios had previously threatened Santamaria over money he felt was owed to him.

Palacios’ attorney, Tania Rebecca Vallejo, argued at trial that Santamaria was the aggressor that night, and that he hit Palacios with the gun, leading to a struggle before it went off.

File source

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