A Sunday homicide at a Taylorsville apartment complex was the result of a plan to intimidate the victim that “went horribly wrong,” according to a probable cause statement filed Tuesday in 3rd District Court.
Unified Police officers arrested 49-year-old Tonita Vianay Espinoza, of Ogden, on Tuesday. She was booked in the Salt Lake County jail under the name of Tonita Vianay Rico late Tuesday night, on suspicion of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, both first-degree felonies.
A tipster led police to Espinoza, who had allegedly told people details about the homicide that had not been made public.
Police wrote in the court documents that Espinoza had hired two men to intimidate 30-year-old Toussaint “TJ” L’Overture Tyler, Jr. — a man whom she said owed her money.
Espinoza was caught on surveillance video knocking on an apartment door in Taylorsville, while two men waited around the corner. When the door opened, the hired men forced their way into the home and fatally shot Tyler, police said.
Espinoza had allegedly told the tipster that things “went horribly wrong and not as planned,” according to the documents.
There were three other adults at the apartment when the shooting occurred, police said.
Tyler, the victim, is originally from Washington state, where he played basketball for Central Washington University. A family member said he had moved to Utah to be close to his daughter.
Friends set up a GoFundMe page called “33 for T,” which describes Tyler as someone with a “radiant smile and personality,” who loved unconditionally and cared for his daughter.
Unified police Detective Ken Hansen said that in addition to arresting Espinoza, police had served a search warrant at a home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Investigators were following up Wednesday on information gathered from the home and were looking into Espinoza’s associates, Hansen said, which will hopefully lead them to the two men involved in the homicide.
One of the male suspects is described by police as a tall African-American man, about 40 years old, wearing a black beanie and black clothing, including “Carhartt-style” jeans. The other male suspect is described a short Hispanic man, 20 to 30 years old, wearing black clothes, including “Carhartt-style” jeans. The female suspect was wearing a black and red hoodie and light-colored pants.
They may have been driving a black 1980s Ford Mustang convertible with red stripes down the sides, police said. The vehicle has low-profile tires with gold rims that extend past the fender and chipped paint with primer showing through.
Court documents show that at the time of her arrest, Espinoza had a warrant for her arrest in a case where she was charged with shoplifting, a class B misdemeanor. Two years ago, she pleaded no contest to a charge of use or possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor. In 2013, she pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Espinoza has been charged with several other theft- and drug-related crimes under the last name of Rico, court records also show. In 2009, she pleaded guilty to retail theft. In 2005, she pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor. In 2001, she was convicted of attempted possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, amended to a third-degree felony. The year before, she was convicted of three counts of distributing/ offering/ arranging to distribute a controlled substance, amended to a second-degree felony. Several other drug-related charges have been dismissed throughout the years.
At the time of his death, Tyler was facing charges filed in April for class B misdemeanor counts of possession or use of a controlled substance and use or possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records. He had pleaded not guilty to both charges. Last month, a 3rd District Court judge issued a warrant for Tyler’s arrest after he failed to appear in for a scheduling hearing. Over the last couple of years, Tyler had been convicted of a few other misdemeanor-level drug- and alcohol-related charges.