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Aspiring YouTuber Recruits 3 Men To Kidnap And Murder Husband
Samantha Wohlford and Ernie Ibarra's marriage was on the rocks when he was attacked and shot to death.
Those who knew Samantha Wohlford said she wanted to be famous: She had her own YouTube channel and dreamed of being an actress. The only thing she’d ever be famous for, however, was the kidnapping and murder of her husband, Ernie Ibarra.
Ernest "Ernie" Lee Ibarra Jr. was born on Christmas 1985 in Mount Pleasant, Texas. “He was kind of a bookworm,” sister Abigail Ibarra told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. By high school computers had replaced books. Ernie was an avid gamer and able to perform his own computer repairs.
Then, in 2008, Ernie met Samantha Wohlford at a local tattoo shop and the pair began dating. “They were like soulmates,” her sister Natasha Wilabay told producers.
Samantha Nicole Wohlford was born in 1989, the oldest of three children. She had a pair of twins with her high school boyfriend when she was 19, and in 2011, she was with Ibarra and became pregnant again, producing another set of twins. A fifth child arrived in 2013, when Samantha was 24.
Ernie was now working two jobs to support the family of seven, running bat manufacturing machines for D-Bat and working nights at a Little Caesars pizza. Believing it would generate extra income, Samantha started a YouTube channel. Her videos discussed her passions, her personal life, and the struggles of being a young mother of five.
“She felt like this was going somewhere. She kind of started paying less attention to her kids and she acted like her so-called job was more important than that,” Abigail told “Snapped.” “She wanted to be internet famous ... My brother didn’t like that kind of thing.”
The couple also fought over Ernie's all-consuming gaming habits, especially after his online avatar married a female gamer’s character. To make amends, Ernie agreed to marry Samantha in 2014. The marriage wouldn't last long, though.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 2015, Rosie Wohlford, Samantha's mother, received a frantic phone call from Samantha.
“She said there were intruders and apparently they had kidnapped him [Ernie]. I finally managed to hear her say, ‘I’m tied up,’ and now I’m really freaking out. I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Rosie told “Snapped.”
Rosie called her sister, Ginger Kesterson, who lived nearby and drove over to the home. She found Samantha upstairs. She was gagged with her hands tied behind her back and her feet tied, according to court documents.
Officers from the Titus County Sheriff’s Department soon arrived on the scene. As authorities searched the home they noticed no valuables were taken. The front door lay in pieces and there were signs of a physical struggle.
“There is some blood on the wall which probably happened during a scuffle. Right by the door was a lock of hair,” former Titus County Sheriff’s First Responder Chris Durant told producers.
Samantha was brought in for questioning. She claimed she and Ernie were asleep when intruders entered their bedroom.
“I remember some time, it was a little after 1 [a.m.], someone jerking the blankets down, which startled me,” Samantha is seen telling investigators in video of her interview obtained by “Snapped.”
Samantha said one of the attackers held a knife to her throat while Ernie was dragged downstairs and beaten. Afterward, they brought her downstairs as well.
“They had me on my knees, forcing him to look at me. It was like they were using me like some kind of taunting factor and they were punching him in the face with a gun,” Samantha is seen tearfully telling detectives in the footage.
Samantha said Ernie was removed from the home while she was taken upstairs and bound and gagged. After the intruders left, she wiggled over to her phone and dialed her mother’s number with her nose. She claimed the assailants were wearing masks that covered their entire faces and baggy black clothes.
Investigators did a trace on Ernie's phone and around 3:20 a.m. got a ping in nearby Pittsburg, Texas. However, they were unable to locate him and the signal later went dead.
Detectives also soon learned Samantha had called the police on Ernie in 2014, alleging that he attacked her.
“Ernie was brought in for questioning and he was ultimately arrested,” prosecutor David Colley told producers. “As part of that arrest, an emergency magistrate’s protective order was issued against him.” (Ernie's family is adamant the allegations against him were false.)
Samantha, meanwhile, claimed their domestic problems were a thing of the past. “She really painted a pretty rosy picture,” Titus County Sheriff’s Investigator Wayne Minor told producers.
Investigators asked her about the events of the day leading up to the attack. She claimed she was at the hospital visiting a friend who was having a baby. In the middle of the interview, Samantha had an “epiphany,” according to Colley, telling investigators, “There’s this guy I met yesterday. His name’s Johnny Reb ...He could have done it.”
Samantha claimed she met Johnny at the hospital and had loaned him her car to drive their friend home from the hospital. She had told him about Ernie's alleged abuse, to which Johnny took umbrage.
“He said he would take exception to someone hitting a woman or something like that and that he kind of offered to somehow intervene in her situation,” Minor told “Snapped.”
Authorities learned Johnny Reb's real name was Johnathan Kyle Sanford, and that the 25-year-old had recently been released from prison. Samantha said he had just texted her from the hospital and detectives rushed there to catch him.
Apprehended with Sanford was his brother-in-law, Jose Antonio Ponse, 26. Both men were charged with aggravated kidnapping, local ABC affiliate KLTV reported at the time.
Sanford said he had met Samantha days earlier at the hospital through his girlfriend, Sharla Kemp, who had just given birth. Samantha told him about Ernie's alleged abuse and Sanford told her he “could take Ibarra out of the picture,” according to court documents.
To help him, Sanford recruited Ponse and another friend, Octavious Lamar Rhymes, 28. They originally intended to plant methamphetamine in Ernie's truck and set him up for a drug bust, according to court documents. On the night of Feb. 19, Sanford, Rhymes, Samantha, and her children drove in her vehicle to buy methamphetamine from Rhymes' cousin. At some point, they decided murdering Ernie would be easier.
On the way to the murder, Sanford, Rhymes, and Ponse smoked the meth they had bought. After beating Ernie, they drove him to a remote area in neighboring Camp County, Texas, where Ponse shot him in the back of the head.
“They had hit him in the head multiple times with the pistol, they had hit him across the face with it, they had punched him, but the death came from being shot in the back of the head,” Colley told “Snapped.”
Sanford would help investigators locate and retrieve Ernie Ibarra’s body. Sanford and Ponse’s charges were subsequently upgraded to include murder.
Authorities then found text messages Samantha sent Rhymes while police were trying to trace Ernie's phone. They read, "Kill [Ernie's] phone. Shut that s--t down...Ditch phone. Move," according to court documents.
Samantha Wohlford was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping and murder. Octavious Rhymes was apprehended and charged similarly on Feb. 26, 2015, local CBS affiliate KYTX reported at the time.
Johnathan Sanford and Jose Ponse pleaded guilty in April 2016 and were each sentenced to 50 years in prison, KLTV reported. In December of that year, Octavious Rhymes went to trial and was found guilty on all counts, receiving a combined 93-year prison sentence.
Samantha Wohlford went on trial for the murder of her husband, Ernie Ibarra, in September 2017. She was found guilty and received a 99-year prison sentence to be served consecutively with a 50-year sentence for kidnapping.
For more on this case and others like it, “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.