Less than a month after he fled to Texas with three of his children after allegedly killing his girlfriend at their Metairie apartment by clubbing her in the head with a steel bar, Pedro Monterroso, 43, made his first appearance in a Jefferson Parish courtroom Friday.
Commissioner Patricia Joyce, of 24th Judicial District Court, ruled there was probable cause to uphold a charge of second-degree murder in the case after an hourlong hearing in which a Sheriff’s Office homicide detective described Monterroso as a violent, possessive man who relatives said not only abused his girlfriend but may have previously killed several people in Honduras while working as a human smuggler.
Detective Rhonda Goff, a 13-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, said she arrived at the small one-bedroom unit where the couple lived in the 4000 block of Durand Street about 4 a.m. July 13.
She said deputies were dispatched to the scene after two of the couple’s male children awoke neighbors, saying between tears that their mother had been killed by their father.
Goff said deputies found 24-year-old Heidi Monroy lying motionless and naked in the bathtub. She was suffering from blunt force trauma to the head and had possible stab wounds to the hand, according to Goff.
Monroy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Within hours of the incident, investigators issued an Amber Alert and began a frantic search for Monterroso and three missing children.
They were found a day later at a church in Katy, Texas, after investigators traced the location of a cellphone in the possession of one of the children.
According to Goff, Monterroso told her in an interview that Monroy was drinking with two male neighbors on the night of their final dispute and that he became angry at her after he caught her with a bag of cocaine.
He told Goff that it was Monroy who first hit him with the bar and that he then hit her “out of self-defense and anger.”
Goff said investigators didn’t find any narcotics in the apartment.
She also said Monroy had recently told Monterroso she didn’t love him and wanted to leave him.
According to Goff, Monroy had been having a relationship with a clerk at a nearby food store. She said Monterroso had caught wind of the affair and had sent text messages to the man telling him to stop seeing Monroy.
In her testimony, Goff also recounted interviews with two of Monroy’s family members, a brother who lives in New York and a sister who was in an immigration detention facility in El Paso, Texas.
She said the relatives described the couple as having a violent relationship that stretched back to their time in Honduras.
Both Monterroso and Monroy had recently crossed the border into the United States illegally and had been detained by immigration officials before being released and ordered to report back to authorities at a later date.
Monterroso and two children were taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents June 26 in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Bryan Cox, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.
Monroy and three children had been apprehended by Border Patrol agents in the same area May 11.
Goff said Monroy’s sister in El Paso said she also had been in a relationship with Monterroso. She told Goff she was the mother of two of the children living in the Metairie apartment.
Goff said Monroy’s sister told her that Monterroso was often violent with both her and Heidi Monroy.
“With both of the sisters, he used to beat them on the legs,” Goff said. “When Heidi came to the country, her legs were covered in bruises.”
Goff said Monroy’s sister also claimed Monterroso was a “coyote,” a term used for smugglers who charge large sums of money to help immigrants enter the country illegally.
She told Goff that Monterroso had killed three police officers in Honduras, as well as a neighbor in Honduras.
An unidentified man made a similar claim to detectives outside the apartment on the day of the incident, saying he’d heard Monterroso was a coyote who had killed 10 men.
Goff said investigators found two pictures of numerous AK-47 assault rifles on Monterroso’s phone.
Monterroso is being held on $1 million bail.
At his hearing Friday, he was emotionless, listening to the proceedings through a translator and occasionally whispering with his court-appointed public defender
It was not immediately clear when he is next due in court.