A man who was extradited from Mexico in 2018 to stand trial in Forsyth County has been found guilty of a burglary charge while being cleared of other charges, including murder.
According to information from the Forsyth County Superior Court, Jorge Ernesto Montiel, 36, was found not guilty in a jury trial on charges of murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of burglary, aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery and was found guilty of another count of burglary.
According to previous reporting from the Forsyth County News, Montiel was extradited from Mexico and taken into custody at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2018 in connection with the 2010 murder of Maria Hernandez-Reyes, who was found dead in her Park Street home in Cumming on Oct. 13, 2010.
In a news release, attorneys AJ Richman and Norman Cuadra, who represented Montiel, said he had previously admitted to the burglary charge and the jury’s decision “ends the serious and wrongful accusations made by the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.”
“Justice has been served. I have always believed in Mr. Montiel’s innocence and am glad the jury carefully considered the lack of forensic evidence in this case. The charges against our client were simply unsubstantiated,” said Richman, of Richman Law Firm. “Mr. Montiel is unfortunately not the only person who has ever been wrongfully accused of a crime. However, I’m glad our team was able to ensure his freedom.”
Cuadra, of Cuadra and Patel law firm, said there was “overwhelming investigative bias in this case.”
“With today’s technology and the ability to forensically examine the evidence, there is no reason Mr. Montiel should have even been arrested or tried for these heinous crimes,” Cuadra said. “The real perpetrator is still out there, and we hope that law enforcement reopens this case and tests the evidence that still exists.”
Richman said Montiel received a seven-year sentence for the burglary charge, which would be reduced due to time served by the Georgia Department of Corrections.
“We are hoping at the end of the calculation it’s deemed served so he can go back to his wife and child, who are waiting on him,” he said.
Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn and Chief Assistant District Attorney Sandra Partridge represented the state in the case and said in a statement they were “extremely disappointed in the [case’s] outcome.”
“We respect the jury’s verdict but still believe the defendant committed the brutal murder of Maria Hernandez Reyes and stand by the decision to bring him to trial,” the statement said. “Technology and forensics were instrumental in identifying the defendant and placing him at the crime scene on the day of her murder.
“They were part of a thorough investigation conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Cumming Police Department and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. We are grateful for their hard work and dedication in the investigation and pursuit of justice for Ms. Hernandez and her family.”
When asked if any others may be indicted with the case, the district attorney’s office said “the investigation eliminated any other suspects” and “the state still believes it prosecuted the person responsible for these crimes.”
They also said the state will not be able to appeal the decision.
According to the 2018 FCN report, Montiel reportedly returned to Mexico before arrest warrants could be issued.
“Because Montiel returned to Mexico, the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit District Attorney authorized international extradition for Montiel,” according to a 2018 GBI news release.
A Forsyth County grand jury indicted Montiel in 2011, and the FBI office in Gainesville obtained a federal warrant for Montiel, and agents took him into custody in Mexico.
Per a 2010 FCN report, then Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton said Hernandez-Reyes died of strangulation, and evidence indicates that she was sexually assaulted. It is not clear why she was attacked.
“The investigation now reveals that there was in fact forced entry into the home,” he said. “We do have at this time credible forensic evidence placing [Montiel] at the crime scene.”
Hernandez-Reyes worked with her husband in a cleaning business at the time of her murder and had two children. Authorities said at the time it appeared they had “a stable family life.”
Authorities said Montiel, who had been arrested in the past by police and the sheriff’s office for forgery and traffic offenses, lived in an apartment complex on Gathering Place, which is within walking distance of the woman’s home.