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Two charged in 2001 drive-by murder in Salt Lake City

Published February 13, 2013 10:02 pm

Crime • Both men are already serving prison time for unrelated convictions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Twelve years after Leonel Perales was shot and killed in a Salt Lake City drive-by, prosecutors have charged the two who are allegedly responsible.

Vincent James Thomas, 32, and Raymond Daniel Benally, 31, were both charged with first-degree felony murder in 3rd District Court on Tuesday. Both men are already in prison on unrelated convictions.

Court documents do not explain how investigators finally charged the duo 12 years after the alleged drive-by shooting death of 25-year-old Perales. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill could not elaborate except to say that investigators finally produced witness statements that made the case in the past year.

"This was good, hard police work, continuing to work those facts and work those witnesses, and those pieces finally came together," Gill said Wednesday.

A Tribune story from 2001 indicates that a verbal altercation preceded the shooting episode.

According to charges, several witnesses told police that on Sept. 28, 2001, they saw a Chevy Celebrity following a Honda Accord near 300 E. 700 South, and that near 700 E. 700 South a male in the Celebrity fired several times at the Accord. A Salt Lake City police officer saw the Accord and Celebrity speeding south through the intersection where the shooting occurred and followed them.

The officer found the Accord stopped near 680 E. Coatsville Ave. (1790 South) with a passenger, Perales, wounded from gunshots. The back window of the Accord was shattered and two bullets had gone through the rear passenger seats. Perales was rushed to LDS Hospital but died, the state medical examiner determined, from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Officers also received information that Benally was driving the Celebrity and Thomas had been the shooter, according to the charges. Someone also told police that Thomas owned a .32-caliber handgun and that he had fired several rounds at a BMW shortly before the homicide occurred, the charges add.

On Oct. 6, 2001, Thomas was at a party at 436 E. Van Ness Place (850 South) when he got into a fight and fired a gun at a guest, according to court documents. That day, police say they found a .32-caliber handgun at the house which the state crime lab eventually matched to the six shell casings that police found in the southbound lanes of 700 East during the drive-by investigation.

Thomas was convicted for the assault at the party. He was also convicted for attempted aggravated assault in 2009, as well as several other felony crimes dating back to 1998. He used to live in Salt Lake City, but is now serving time in a federal prison in Forrest City, Ark.

Benally was convicted in 2008 on three counts of firing a gun from a vehicle, near a highway or in the direction of any person, building or vehicle, and has prior convictions for assault and theft going back to 2000. He is currently residing at the Utah State Prison.

mmcfall@sltrib.comTwitter: @mikeypanda