On Wednesday, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office said 52-year-old Hector Garay was handed a sentence of life imprisonment plus an additional 35 years for a murder in Buford that occurred 23 years ago.

Garay’s sentence is the maximum penalty allowed for his crimes. On Dec. 12, a jury found Hector Garay guilty of killing a businessman in Buford in 1996 during an attempted armed robbery. After two hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

A spokesperson with the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office said since the homicide was committed before the murder penalty was amended, Hector Garay was not eligible for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The case was prolonged when prosecutors said Garay fled the country for 22 years, cutting off contact with his family. He was detained trying to cross the El Salvador-Honduras border in 2017 and extradited to the U.S. in 2018.

On Jan. 21, 1996, prosecutors said victim, Adalberto Salinas, and his wife, Francisca, returned to their home after working at their business at Buford Hwy Flea Market. It was one of two businesses Salinas owned, and prosecutors said he was known to have a large amount of cash.

The couple noticed what appeared to be someone trying to open their front door. With the security chain still on the door, prosecutors said Salinas opened the door to see if someone was there. Three gunshots were fired through the door, two of which struck and killed Salinas. Francisca Salinas called her daughter, who eventually called 911.

Days later, investigators with Gwinnett County Police interviewed a witness who stated Garay tried to recruit him to help with an armed robbery. The same witness told investigators about a conversation he had with Garay, who admitted to committing the shooting.

Prosecutors said the witness told investigators Garay intended to leave the country in fear his car tag had been seen. Police were unable to locate Garay.

Detectives learned Garay had admitted to being involved in the shooting to his roommate, and the roommate had driven Garay to Roswell. This was the last known contact with Garay for 22 years, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said Garay fled to Texas and ultimately to his native country of El Salvador.

At the trial, Adalberto Salinas’ children were key witnesses in the trial, since Francisca Salinas died in 2007.

During his testimony, Garay claimed that witnesses were attempting to pin the murder on him and they threatened to kill him and his son if he spoke of any details of the murder in 1996. He told prosecutors that his roommate would have no reason to lie about the defendant. Prosecutors said he offered to the jury that he had mental problems and that he had the mind of a child and he was taken advantage of.

Garay has been in custody at Gwinnett County Jail since May 2018.

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