Suspect hires new attorney in death penalty case

Court hearings will be delayed for a man facing the death penalty for hiring an alleged killer because he has hired a new attorney.

Abraham Jimenez Cesareo, 37, of 2207 Seventh St., has retained Star Esther Beatrez Martinez with the Indianapolis law firm Harwell Legal Counsel LLC to represent him, a court spokeswoman said.

Since Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash announced last week that he will seek the death penalty against Cesareo, Indiana law requires the defendant to be represented by two attorneys, including one with trial experience in a capital punishment case.

In legal documents filed Friday, Joseph Lozano of Bloomington is still listed at one of Cesareo’s attorneys, as well as the founder of Martinez’s law firm, Jonathan Harwell.

All previously established hearings for Cesareo, including his Nov. 9 trial before Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge James Worton, have been indefinitely postponed, and will be rescheduled at a later date, court officials said.

Investigators say Cesareo is accused of hiring a Chicago man, Eliel Avelar, to come to Columbus and physically harm 37-year-old Leobardo Rodriguez Flores, court documents state. Police believe Cesareo was motivated by jealousy because Flores was dating his ex-girlfriend, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Avelar has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Flores, who was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2020, in the parking lot of his employer, Tool Dynamics, located on South Marr Road.

While Avelar, 31, accepted a plea agreement, his sentencing will not take place until he testifies in the cases of three defendants that include Cesareo.

The plea agreement stipulates Avelar would receive a 17½-year prison sentence if he truthfully testifies against his three co-defendants: Cesareo, Eladia Jacobo Ortiz and Esam Mohammed Abujoudeh.

While a police affidavit states Avelar demanded $2,000 from Ortiz and $7,000 from Cesareo prior to the killing, a search warrant revealed Ortiz later received threatening phone and text messages from Avelar demanding more money.

Abujoudeh, 24, of Oak Forest, Illinois, is charged with battery resulting in serious bodily injury and obstruction of justice as a Level 6 felony. Ortiz, 35, is charged with aiding, inducing or causing murder. Both have change of plea hearings scheduled for January and trial dates tentatively set for February, court officials said.

If Avelar does not testify or commits perjury, the judge can reject the plea agreement and order him to be tried on nine felony charges that include murder, court documents state.