20 years on run, fugitive captured | TahoeDailyTribune.com

20 years on run, fugitive captured

Tahoe Daily Tribune file South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Hal Arden dusts for fingerprints at the crime scene. Lilian Ocampo Zuniga was found dead at the AMG Retail Store on Aug. 29, 1984.

Filipino authorities hold man in ex-wife’s stabbing

By William Ferchland

Tribune staff writer

The former husband of a South Lake Tahoe grocery store owner, who died after being stabbed two dozen times in 1984, was arrested last week in the Philippines.

Geronimo Mendoza Zuniga, 52, also known as Hemi Ziniga, was wanted for questioning almost immediately after authorities discovered Lilian Ocampo Zuniga dead at the AMG Retail Store on Aug. 29, 1984.

The shop, a Filipino grocery store which Lilian owned, was located at 3339 Lake Tahoe Boulevard.

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Depending on an outcome of a court ruling in the Philippines, Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said Zuniga, who was arrested Aug. 5, could be back in South Lake Tahoe in a few weeks. The process could take months if Zuniga fights extradition.

Lilian lived in Tahoe for 1 1/2 years and worked as a casino cocktail waitress. She and Geronimo were husband and wife but divorced shortly before the murder. Her parents told police Geronimo threatened her into marriage and became enraged when they separated and she remarried.

Law enforcement found the body when they responded to the store at 8:45 p.m. on a suspicious circumstance call. Lilian was stabbed in the back, neck and head. Authorities believe she bled to death.

“She was stabbed a lot,” said County Supervisor Dave Solaro, a police lieutenant who worked on the case at the time.

Police said the couple’s 5-year-old son witnessed the murder.

Authorities knew Geronimo fled to the Philippines, which, until recently, was slowing the investigative process.

“We identified him right away and worked with the FBI to try and capture him and the FBI was working with the Philippine government but wasn’t getting positive results,” Solaro said.

A federal warrant for Geronimo was issued a month after the murder and charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

An extradition treaty between America and the Philippines was signed in November 1994 and made valid two years later.

A request for Geronimo’s extradition was filed with the Philippine authorities in June 2003. He was arrested at the southern island of Mindoro.

“This fugitive investigation represents the finest in international law enforcement cooperation and should serve as a warning to criminals seeking asylum that our country’s legal and investigative systems will not rest in bringing fugitives to justice, nationally and globally,” said Keith Slotter, special agent in charge of the Sacramento Division of the FBI.

Zuniga is the second murder suspect in a cold case to face charges here recently. Ulysses Roberson, suspected of killing his young son in 1986, was brought to Tahoe last summer.

Uthe is the prosecuting attorney in the Roberson case and feels confident in the prosecution of Zuniga.

“(Evidence) is not as voluminous (as Roberson) but we view it as a very good case despite the passage of time,” he said. “Time tends to damage cases but in this case I don’t think it’s going to be a critical problem.”

“This was not a whodunit,” Uthe added. “This was where did he go?”

Uthe thanked his office and authorities at the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, FBI, Filipino National Police and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for capturing Zuniga.

“I’m very pleased to hear of it,” Uthe said. “It’s a result of a lot of hard work by a number of dedicated people over the past couple of years.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.