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A Texas man, who fled police last year in Houston with a tiger in his SUV, was convicted on separate murder charges related to a fatal shooting outside a sushi restaurant nearly five years ago.
Victor Cuevas, 27, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday in the 2017 shooting death of Oseikhuemen Omobhude, who was gunned down at a strip mall in Richmond. Cuevas’ sentencing is currently underway in Fort Bend County court, his lawyer told Oxygen.com.
Cuevas, a big cat enthusiast, made international headlines last year after he led authorities on a brief police chase with a nine-month-old Bengal tiger inside his vehicle.
Omobhude was found shot and lying on the floor inside a Buffalo Wings restaurant on July 14, 2017, according to an arrest warrant obtained by Oxygen.com. He was transported to a local hospital but was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Police found several bullet holes and blood in the Toyota Corolla that Omobhude had been driving, which was parked outside the fast food restaurant. In total, 14 shell casings from two different firearms were recovered from the parking lot, charging documents show. Approximately one pound of marijuana was discovered in Omobhude’s car, which was “packaged in a manner consistent with delivery.” A bloody nine-millimeter pistol was also recovered from the Toyota.
A sushi restaurant employee, who later identified Cuevas as the gunman in a photo line-up, said he heard gunshots erupt in the strip mall’s parking lot shortly before 7:30 p.m. The man told investigators he later looked out the window and saw Cuevas slip on a “skull facemask” and speed off on a white street motorcycle.
The restaurant worker, who recognized Cuevas as an infrequent customer, said Cuevas had recently entered the restaurant with a firearm in a shoulder holster.
Another witness told detectives he saw two armed assailants, whom he described as Black and Hispanic males, opening fire on Omobhude in the parking lot as he unsuccessfully tried to flee the scene in his car.
Omobhude died from a single gunshot wound which had pierced his heart, a medical examiner later determined. Cuevas had pleaded not guilty in the deadly shooting, and claimed that he’d opened fire on Omobhude in self-defense. No spent nine millimeter casings, however, were found in Omobhude’s bullet-riddled car, indicating that he had not returned fire.
Aside from eyewitness testimony, detectives also used electronic evidence to link Cuevas to Omobhude’s shooting. According to court documents, Cuevas had called Omobhude on his cell phone moments before shots rang out in the sushi restaurant parking lot.
Cuevas now faces a maximum punishment of life in prison.
Mike Elliot, Cuevas’ defense attorney, declined to immediately comment on the court’s ruling regarding his client on Thursday morning as he headed into court.
“We’re walking into the courtroom right now, we’re still doing punishment,” Elliot told Oxygen.com by telephone.
“When our officers arrived, it was at that point that Cuevas took the tiger, put him into this white Jeep Grand Cherokee and then fled the scene as officers were attempting to speak with him,” Jodi Silva, a public information officer for the Houston Police Department, told Oxygen.com last year.
For days, however, the whereabouts of the tiger mystified Houston Police. The missing Bengal tiger, whose name was “India,” Cuevas’ lawyer said, was later found unharmed and was relocated to Black Beauty Ranch wildlife sanctuary in Murchison, Texas, according to City of Houston officials.
Cuevas' attorney said his client had only been temporarily keeping the wild cat, though police later found a tiger enclosure in the backyard of his home, police said.
The incident drew widespread condemnation from animal activists and big cat preservationists across the country, many of whom pointed to a perceived lack of laws governing exotic animal ownership in Texas — a state where private ownership of big cats is legal. Thirty-five states across the U.S. ban citizens from owning big cats as pets. Houston has municipal laws prohibiting tiger ownership.
Cuevas pleaded not guilty to evading police. The case is still active, according to separate court records obtained by Oxygen.com.
Cuevas' sentencing in Omobhude’s murder is expected to conclude in the coming days, a spokesperson for the Fort Bend District Attorney's Office confirmed Thursday afternoon.
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