When David Ernesto Murillo left his mother’s home in Nogales around midday on April 27 carrying a semi-automatic rifle, he insisted to detectives, he had no intention of shooting, let alone killing anyone.
“I can’t believe this happened today,” Murillo said during one of two post-arrest interviews with Detectives Jeff Webb and John Ruble of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, according to transcripts obtained from the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office through a public records request. “I wasn’t trying to – I never planned on putting any holes in anybody’s body.”
However, according to the detectives’ depiction of a surveillance video, the 28-year-old handyman charged at a Nogales Police Department cruiser and determinedly pumped round after round from an AR-15 rifle into its driver, Officer Jesus Cordova, from the front, side and back. Cordova, 44, died from the injuries, which he sustained after he tried to pull over Murillo in the midst of an armed carjacking spree.
Transcripts of the two interviews with Murillo – conducted by Webb and Ruble around 8 p.m. on April 27 and 3 a.m. the next morning, both with no defense lawyer present and after Murillo waived his Miranda rights – show him to be talkative and willingly confessing to the array of crimes that would lead to 39 felony charges filed against him. They also depict a regretful yet detached and scatterbrained suspect, who in the narrative he provides the officers, comes across as a novice and bumbling criminal whose poorly thought-out plan to rob a taxi driver for rent money quickly spiraled into a whirlwind of chaos, violence and death.
The 130 pages of documents show the detectives desperately trying to get at a deeper motive for the crime spree, hammering him especially hard to explain why he so violently killed Cordova.
“How did you get to that point to where you could do such a thing?” Webb asked.
“Now’s the time to explain yourself as to why you did what you did and the family would know, and they could have closure,” Ruble added.
Murillo insisted he wasn’t trying to kill Cordova, but shot up to 15 bullets because he was afraid he would be killed first, and because he needed to buy time to escape the massive police force hunting him down.
But the detectives were dubious, and told Murillo that his buying time argument didn’t make sense because the surveillance video taken from a business near the shooting – Cordova was gunned down in front of Villa’s Market, on West Mesa Verde Drive at the intersection of North Grand Avenue – shows him deliberately killing Cordova with extreme force.
“You told us a very, very accurate story of everything else, except for the point when you violently murdered a police officer,” said Webb, who called the video “clear as day.”
He described Murillo firing his AR-15 after jumping out of a stolen Jaguar and charging head-on at the squad car behind him, then pinning the door closed as Cordova tried to exit and shooting him “at point blank range” before he circled the vehicle to shoot Cordova from behind.
“That is not what you do if you were just trying to create time to get away. That is what you do when you intend to kill someone,” Webb said.
“You went with a purpose to that car, and you murdered him. You trapped him in that car and you made sure he was dead before you left,” Ruble added.
The County Attorney’s Office had not responded to a public records request for a copy of the video by press time.
Murillo is now charged with three first-degree murder offenses, including one for premeditative, or preplanned murder. The second is for felony murder, meaning a murder committed in the act of carrying out another felony offense, and the third is for killing an active-duty law enforcement officer.
County Attorney George Silva said at the time of Murillo’s arraignment on May 2 that his office was considering seeking the death penalty. That designation has yet to be added to the case, however, and Murillo is still pending a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause for the 39 counts against him, which also include the attempted murder of another police officer, seven counts of armed robbery, five counts of kidnapping and five counts of car theft, among others.
Robbery gone wrong
Murillo, who had a Tempe address at the time of his arrest, told the detectives that he grew up in Nogales, where he attended A.J. Mitchell Elementary and Wade Carpenter Middle schools. He said he was expelled from Nogales and Pierson Vocational high schools, then moved to the Phoenix area and eventually graduated from Pinnacle Charter School, he thinks in 2009.
School officials previously told the NI that he attended NHS, then moved to Pierson before withdrawing to attend Pinnacle.
While visiting Nogales in 2009, Murillo told the detectives, he was charged with possessing drug paraphernalia and using someone’s car without their permission – facts confirmed by online court records.
“I’ve done every drug out there,” he said.
He said he used acid about three months prior to his arrest, and psychedelic mushrooms about eight days before his crime spree. It wasn’t clear from the interviews when he had last drunk alcohol or smoked marijuana. He takes no medication and has no medical conditions, he said, but his former boss suggested he see a therapist because he made stupid decisions.
Murillo said he worked various handyman jobs in the Phoenix area, and most recently worked doing odd jobs for very wealthy people. He claimed to have had a dramatic falling out with one of his employers after he recorded the man saying bad things about his girlfriend, and then gave the recordings to the woman. Murillo said he was fired and threatened by the man, and so on April 25, two days before his crime spree, he returned to Nogales because he had no money.
On the evening of April 26, Murillo said, he received a call from his roommate who said Murillo’s ex-employer was harassing her. He wanted to get money to pay his roommate’s rent and help her move away, so he devised a plan to get the money by using a gun to scare and rob a taxi driver.
The plan was to make the driver go to a remote area, take his credit card and phone, and leave him there with water.
“But it – it didn’t go so well as planned,” he said.
He took the AR-15, which belongs to his brother, from a room at his mother’s house around 1 or 2 a.m on April 27, and slept with the gun with its safety off because he was afraid that three men outside his house were sent by his former boss, he said. He watched YouTube videos to learn about the weapon “just in case” he had to use it on the men, he said.
Murillo told detectives he doesn’t own any guns “because I never found the need for it.” He recalled that when he once looked into buying a gun, someone told him that he should be able to, despite his felony criminal record.
Around 1 or 1:30 p.m. on April 27, Murillo said, he walked to the Las Vigas Restaurant off Arroyo Boulevard – a large plastic box with his disassembled rifle, bullets, clothing and laptop in hand – to wait for the taxi he had called.
Murillo said he realized he “picked the worst taxi driver” to rob after learning that the man had children and no credit cards.
Yet he continued with his plan. He told the driver he was meeting friends in Patagonia and was going to assemble a rifle that he would use to scare them. After passing the Nogales International Airport on State Route 82, Murillo said, he told the driver he needed to rob him.
“My adrenaline was rushing at that point,” Murillo said, adding that he couldn’t believe what he was doing.
After the driver refused his command to take the next right, Murillo said, he shot inside the car, accidentally disabling the engine. The driver then bolted from the vehicle.
The driver, 59-year-old Jesus Hernandez, owner of J. Hernandez Taxi, previously recounted the experience in similar terms during an interview with the NI. He said he suffered a heart attack as a result of the stress and had to undergo open-heart surgery.
Digging a deeper hole
Stuck on SR 82 in a disabled taxi, Murillo tried to carjack another vehicle that happened by. However, he said, the woman driver refused to comply and escaped.
He might have fired a shot into the air to scare her, he said, and he thought they recognized each other. Perhaps she was a teacher, he said.
The woman, Libby McAfee, was indeed a teacher at NHS. She previously told the NI that the she first assumed the armed man who waved her down was a law enforcement official. When he didn’t identify himself, she said, “I realized it was not a good guy.”
Once McAfee fled, Murillo said, he approached an older couple – identified by the NI in the aftermath as as tourists Kevin and Teresa Dauenbaugh from Minnesota – in a black vehicle by pretending to be a cop. The couple complied when Murillo commanded them to get out and leave their phones in the car.
Murillo began to drive off, keeping his eye out for the police.
“They took forever to respond, unfortunately, to the incident,” Murillo told the detectives. “But they did an awesome job at the end of the day.”
Murillo said he thought about running into the mountains. Instead, he backtracked towards Nogales, turning onto Old Patagonia Highway, which becomes Camino Vista Del Cielo, before parking at the Mediacom store on North Grand Avenue.
He was at the store for up to 15 minutes, long enough to have made it to Mexico if he had wanted, he said. But he was determined to help his friend with her rent and tell his ex-boss to leave her alone. Leaving the gun inside the car taken from the tourists, he went inside the store to ask for water. A woman gave him water and Gatorade, he said.
He wanted to change cars and saw several he could have taken, but didn’t want to steal from someone who reminded him of family members, or had women or children in the car, he said.
So he wrapped the rifle in a jacket he found in Dauenbaugh’s vehicle and walked into a “motorhome place,” likely the nearby Mi Casa RV Travel Park.
After finding a man near his Jaguar, Murillo said, he took the jacket off the gun – “I learned all this on YouTube a long time ago,” he told the detectives – and pointed the weapon at him. Speaking in Spanish, he told the man to give him the keys and the man “didn’t hesitate” to tell him the keys were inside the car, he said.
Once inside the Jaguar, Murillo said, he could hear the police over the radio. When he took a right onto Grand Avenue, he said, he saw police cars. He drove toward what he described as “the Foxworth building” (currently Villa’s Market) and saw a police car make a U-turn and park behind him.
“Am I going to die or whatever, arrested, like what’s going to happen?” Murillo recalled asking himself at that moment. “Unfortunately, I thought I needed to get the upper hand on this or I’ll get – I’ll die.”
Murillo said he got out of the car while it was still moving and held the gun in one arm to shoot at Cordova. He said he wasn’t sure if his gun was automatic, and, as he does throughout the interviews, he mimicked the sound of the weapon with “pows” and “booms.”
Murillo told the detectives it was “emotionally impacting” to hear Cordova suffer.
“I could tell that he was one of the good cops. I don’t know if he’s alive. I hope he is,” he said, adding that he hoped Cordova was wearing a vest that protects from assault rifles.
The detectives, however, didn’t appear swayed by his expressions of empathy, description of his posture during the shooting, or his insistence that he was just trying to buy time by shooting Cordova. Shooting at point-blank range “is not what you do if you were just trying to create time to get away,” Webb told him.
What’s more, the detectives told him they watched the surveillance video of the shooting between the first and second interviews, and said the video tells a different story than the one he gave them during the first session.
“You told me earlier you got out … you walked toward him and you were shootin’ and you kinda came out wide a little bit,” Webb said during the second interview. “But what you fail to mention is how you sprinted and ran back towards that man and started shooting him before he even had a chance to defend himself. And then, on top of that, when he tried to get out of his car, you pinned him in by pushing the door shut on him and you shot him repeatedly … How did you get to that point to where you could do such a thing?”
Murillo insisted he couldn’t remember touching the door, but acknowledged that if the video showed him doing it, he probably did. And while Webb told him that police can legally lie to suspects in interviews, it’s “extremely unprofessional” and he doesn’t do it. He hammered home the reported video depiction of Murillo charging at Cordova and shutting him in the car as he continued to shoot from multiple angles.
“I have an innocent man who’s now dead, who you violently murdered in a very, very aggressive fashion,” Webb said. “So, I wanted to just ask you about it and ask you why. Why you didn’t tell me what really happened.”
But Murillo stuck to his assertion that “I just wanted to get outta there,” and “my goal was not to murder him.”
During the first interview, the detectives questioned why Murillo didn’t try to help Cordova if he felt bad he was in pain. He responded that he thought about it, but if he had approached Cordova or called 911, he would probably end up killing himself because he wouldn’t be able to “live with that image.”
Murillo said he considered taking Cordova’s car, but was afraid it had a GPS tracker, and expressed discomfort with Cordova’s suffering, possibly bloody body.
Instead, he said, he chose a white truck with a toolbox in the back as his “next target.” County Manager Jennifer St. John previously confirmed that this truck was a county-owned vehicle.
Murillo told the driver of the truck to drive him, but the man ran away, he said. So he hopped in the vehicle and saw “nonstop” police and Border Patrol vehicles as he headed south towards Frank Reed Road.
“I never thought I’d be be in this place in my life,” he said.
He headed toward the house of someone he hadn’t seen in a long time to see if he could take his car. But when he arrived at the house, Murillo said, he learned the person no longer lived there.
Instead, he said, he chatted with a man at the house about the engine on his Ford Escape, and asked if he could see it. As they got closer to the vehicle, he pointed his gun at the man and told him to drive him. The man refused, so Murillo drove himself.
“I guess I’m a natural criminal or natural maniac. I don’t know what it is. I’m not saying I am, but it’s just like crazy, dude. I couldn’t believe that was happening. I hated it, because I’m not a manipulator person,” he told the detectives.
He made his way towards Mariposa Road, which connects with the Mexican border, he explained to the detectives.
“I never got to that. That was my goal at the moment,” Murillo said about the border run, though he noted that there were many police cars around and that the authorities had probably closed the border.
Standoff and capture
When he saw a Border Patrol vehicle do a U-turn, Murillo said, he drove and parked near a warehouse. NPD has described the area as being near Mariposa Road and Industrial Park Drive.
“I wasn’t planning on shooting anybody else. I wasn’t even planning it at the beginning or anything,” he said.
Murillo ran out of the vehicle as the Border Patrol agent stopped behind him. He shot into the ground so the police would take cover and he could gain more time, he said.
“I don’t want no shootouts,” he said.
The detectives referred to Murillo’s tactic of firing into the ground to scare the Border Patrol agent – or displaying his gun to the people whose cars he stole or tried to take – as evidence that he had a murderous motive when he shot Cordova.
“Your other times that you were out today, you sent out warning shots, you just displayed a weapon and in this instance, you murdered someone,” Ruble said.
Throughout the interviews, Murillo referenced watching police shows like “CSI” and “Law and Order,” and mentioned things he’s seen and learned from movies.
He said after running through a warehouse while fleeing the Border Patrol, he jumped over a fence “like Free Willie” into a “motorhome park.” NPD previously identified the location as the Mariposa Manor Trailer Park.
Murillo said he heard police say the lot number he was in, and he hid under an RV. As he heard police gather nearby, he said, he yelled that he was going to come out and shoot the last rounds out of his weapon.
“I wanted to empty out the clips so I – my possibility of dying would decrease, you know, like I want to make sure they feel a little bit more safe,” he said.
After firing his remaining five or six bullets, he said, he called his roommate, sister and mother to tell them what he did and that he loved them.
“I’m making calls before I go, before, I don’t know if I’m going to die,” he said.
He could hear the cops yelling at him, but couldn’t hear what they were saying after he fired his shots at close range. While speaking with his mother, he said, he talked to his sister’s boyfriend, who encouraged him to throw the gun out from under the trailer and turn himself in.
Murillo said he tossed the clip out, and then the disassembled rifle before crawling out from under the RV. He said he put his hands forward and police ran towards him, pulled him to the ground face-first and handcuffed him.
“I’m so sorry,” Murillo recounted telling the police. One officer responded by swearing, but Murillo said he was never threatened, hit or abused.
He said the police searched him, put him in a vehicle and took him away.