Justice for Galena Park Cheerleader’s 1995 death

Decades after cheerleader’s death, her alleged killer extradited from Mexico

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

Decades after her 19-year-old daughter’s death, Judy Martin was notified that her daughter’s alleged murderer has been extradited from Mexico by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and jailed in Harris County. It’s a bittersweet present of sorts for Christmas for Martin, whose daughter Kristie was a former cheerleader at Galena Park High School, gunned down just days before Christmas 28 years ago while she was out with friends celebrating the holidays. Jose Luis Rios, 47, is suspected of murdering Martin at a park in Channelview on Dec. 23, 1995, in the early hours on Saturday morning while Martin and her friend were walking and talking outside their vehicle.

“I was headed to a basketball game with my other daughter Stephanie last week and when I arrived, she [Stephanie] was out front,” Martin said.

She couldn’t understand why her daughter was not inside watching the game, but she soon discovered the FBI was looking for her.

“I don’t have a landline and they told her not to be alarmed, but that they had good news and wanted to tell me first-hand,” she said.

Her daughter lives in the Memorial area, and Martin is a former resident of Crosby and North Shore, so the FBI wanted to schedule a conference call with the two.

She heard from two agents, one an investigator and the other with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“They told us that he had been arrested in Mexico, and the FBI had located him and was bringing him to Houston to be put in Harris County jail,” Martin said.

Rios arrived in Houston on Wednesday, according to court records, and was supposed to appear on the docket before a magistrate but for some reason did not appear until Friday in the 339th Criminal Court before Judge Te’iva J. Bell, who denied Rios bond.

Investigators have already been in contact with Salvador Barrera, who was with Kristie the night of the shooting, and his brother.

Martin learned that Rios allegedly admitted to one of his ex-girlfriends that he had killed Kristie.

Prosecutors are already busy building their case against Rios.

“He’s in jail, praise the Lord,” Martin said, “but I know how long this process can take.”

Martin’s husband Brian died 14 years ago from a heart attack.

“He went to his grave without the satisfaction of knowing her killer hadn’t been caught,” she said.

After 28 years, Martin had resigned herself to the fact the same may be true for her, until the phone call came on Wednesday last week.

“This news came out of nowhere and almost on the 28th anniversary of her death,” she said.

Rios, who went by the nickname Flaco, and his accomplice, Jorge Mendez, were reportedly driving a red truck through River Terrace Park and approached Kristie and Barrera standing outside of their blue Chevrolet Beretta.

According to the police, Rios called out to the couple, but Kristie said they should leave the park. That’s when Rios, sitting in the passenger side of the red truck, allegedly opened fire with an assault weapon, shooting five times. Kristie was struck in the back and died at the scene, while her female friend was wounded by one of the bullets while sitting in the back seat of the car.

Barrera positively identified Rios in a photo lineup, according to court documents, and an arrest warrant was issued for Rios and Mendez. Both were allegedly in a gang and fled to Mexico. Mendez was arrested in Mexico in 2001, but instead of extradition to the U.S., he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 31 years in prison. Rios absconded from law enforcement until August.

Detective Chuck Leithner, who worked on the case, retired from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and later took a job working for the Waller County Sheriff’s Office. He retired from there last month.

The case drew national attention with profiles on Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted. Rios was indicted on the charge of murder on May 1, 1996 by the 263rd Grand Jury without him being present.

“The FBI has a very long memory, and the FBI has a very long reach,” said acting special agent in charge David Martinez, FBI Houston. “Fugitive Jose Luis Rios was arrested in Mexico this past August thanks to the FBI’s global reach and international partnerships. Mexican authorities, through coordination by FBI Houston’s Violent Crimes Task Force and the FBI’s Mexico City Legal Attache Office, arrested Rios. To the victims and their families, you don’t forget and neither do we,” he said in a tweet on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter).

“Justice may not always be swift, but as in this case, justice will not be denied,” Martinez said.