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Arrest made in 11-year-old murder

Suspect fled country to Mexico

POSTED: February 17, 2008 5:05 a.m.

Eleven years and 1,300 miles wasn’t enough distance to separate Juan Bayona from the long arm of the law.

Bayona was booked into the Hall County jail Tuesday after his extradition from Durango, Mexico, where he fled from an 11-year-old murder charge.

"It didn’t work for him," Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said of the suspect’s flight from justice.

Bayona and another man, Arturo Elizalde, were charged in warrants but never arrested in the Feb. 16, 1997, murder of 20-year-old Rigo Verto Verbuzco, who was gunned down in a gang-related daylight shooting in front of the Burger King restaurant on Athens Street. Elizalde, now 30, remains at large.

Authorities said at the time that Verbuzco was a member of the Puchacos street gang and that his killers were members of the rival BSV or "Brown Side Vatos" gang. On a Sunday afternoon, Vebuzco was standing with a group of people in the restaurant’s parking lot when Bayona drove up in a red Toyota rental car. Words were exchanged and Vebuzco was shot in the midsection with a .40 caliber handgun, police said at the time. Witnesses to the shooting identified Bayona, police said at the time.

The shooting prompted authorities to re-activate a dormant Gainesville-Hall County Gang Task Force, which remains active. The Puchacos and BSV gangs still exist, but other gangs, including BOE-23 and SUR-13, are more prominent in Gainesville now.

Bayona, now 29, was 18 when he fled the country, settling in Durango, a rural area of Mexico where many Hispanic immigrants in Gainesville have roots.

Gainesville Police Lt. Brian Kelly said Mexican authorities responded to a report of a fight on Jan. 21 at Bayona’s home. A check of his name revealed he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a murder charge in the United States, Kelly said.

Mexican law enforcement officials turned Bayona over on Jan. 23 to the FBI in the border town of El Paso, Texas, and the defendant waived extradition to Georgia, Darragh said. He arrived in Gainesville on Tuesday and was turned over to the Gainesville Police Department, who took him to the Hall County jail.

"I’m grateful to the Mexican authorities," Darragh said.

The murder case, once "dead-docketed" in Hall County’s court system, will be revived now that a suspect is in custody, Darragh said.

Kelly said investigators have pulled the old case files out of storage and will be looking to locate witnesses.

"It’s a classic cold case," Kelly said. "It pretty much went cold soon after it occurred when we got information they fled the country."

Verbuzco’s family, who still reside in Gainesville, were notified when the arrest was made, Kelly said. An investigator spoke with his mother, he said.

"It brought up some old feelings, but she was relieved to know that we’re still on the case," Kelly said.



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