Driver in murder-for-hire case has plea hearing continued

A hearing in the criminal case against a Chicago-area man who is accused of driving a car in an attack on a local man at his workplace in 2020 that resulted in his death was continued again in Bartholomew Superior Court 1.

In the murder-for-hire case, 37-year-old Leobardo Rodriguez Flores was killed Feb. 26, 2020 in the parking lot of his employer, Tool Dynamics, on South Marr Road.

On Monday, Esam Mohammad Abujouedeh, 26 of Oak Forrest, Illinois, who allegedly drove the car for the self-confessed hired killer, was scheduled to enter a plea in Bartholomew Superior Court 1. He is charged with battery resulting in a serious bodily injury as a Level 5 felony and obstruction of justice as a Level 6 felony.

When Judge James Worton asked about the defendant’s whereabouts on Monday, public defender Benjamin Loheide simply said Chicago before asking for another continuance in the case. Abujouedeh was free in late 2020 after posting a $3,000 cash bond.

But after seven change of plea hearings were postponed, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay told the court the case has been dragged out for too long already. Loheide gave Worton and Holden-Kay his assurances that he would not ask for another continuance.

New court dates for Abujouedeh include a change of plea hearing on May 1, a pre-trial conference on May 11 and a tentative trial date of May 30.

Court affidavits state that Abraham Jimenez Cesareo, 38, of 2207 7th St. hired Eliel Avelar, 33, of Midlothian, Illinois, to come to Columbus and physically harm Flores, according to court documents. Investigators said Cesareo was motivated by jealousy because Flores was dating his ex-girlfriend.

Avelar was originally facing 12 different charges, including murder. But on Oct. 12, 2020, he entered a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter as a Level 2 felony. Eleven other charges were dropped, but the deal kept him behind bars so he would be available to testify against the other three defendants.

Despite the dropped charges, a Level 2 felony could keep Avelar in prison for up to 30 years. Sentencing is scheduled for March 31, 2023.

On Sept. 13, 2022, Cesareo plead guilty to aiding, inducing or causing kidnapping as a Level 2 offense and aiding, inducing or causing aggravated battery as a Level 3 felony. He could receive up to 46 years in prison when Worton sentences him on March 14 at 3:30 p.m.

Eladia Jacobo Ortiz, 36, of 895 S. National Road, is accused of arranging for Cesareo to meet Avelar, as well as committing other acts that directly led to the murder, while Abujouedeh is charged with driving the hit man the night of the killing.

Ortiz, who has not made any plea bargains, is charged with aiding, inducing or causing a murder. In Indiana, that crime carries the same penalty as if she committed the killing herself. A change of plea for Ortiz is scheduled on March 20 at 10:30 a.m., with a pre-trial conference at April 4 at 11 a.m. and jury trial on April 18 at 8:30 a.m.