A 37-year-old Montrose man has been charged with murder for the brutal killing of a Buffalo man.
The victim, 34-year-old Justin E. Warnke, was found dead in the snow next to a gravel road in rural Meeker County just after 8 a.m. on Dec. 29. Warnke was found wearing a t-shirt, pajama shorts and socks, according to a criminal complaint that charges Alejandro Vega Jr. with second-degree murder.
A medical examiner ruled Warnke's death a homicide from asphyxial injuries. He was also found by deputies with bruising around both eyes, including one eye closed shut from significant trauma. He had suffered blunt force trauma to his head, scalp, chest and back.
Investigators learned that Warnke had been staying at the AmericInn hotel in Monticello in the days leading up to his death, and surveillance video from the hotel showed that Warnke was picked up by Vega, driving a 2004 red Saturn, around 4 a.m. Dec. 28.
Around 11:30 a.m. that day, Vega returned to the AmericInn and claimed that Warnke had a medical emergency and he needed to gain access to the room to retrieve Warnke's personal property. He was denied access and left, the complaint says.
It wasn't until New Year's Day that Vega was considered a suspect. The break in the case came when staff from the Montrose apartment complex Vega lives in called police saying they had surveillance video that appeared to show Vega leaving his apartment with what looked like a dead body wrapped in blankets.
Police reviewed the video and confirmed that Vega left the apartment at 1:13 a.m. on Dec. 29 with "what appears to be a body wrapped up in blankets with a head wrapped in a black garbage bag," the criminal complaint said.
Vega was stopped on Hwy. 12 in Meeker County just prior to 8 p.m. New Year's Day and arrested. He was driving a 2004 red Saturn.
Vega told investigators that he returned to his apartment to find Warnke unresponsive in the master bedroom, but he couldn't provide a reason for why Warnke was bleeding. Instead of calling police, Vega wrapped Warnke in a blanket, covered his head with two garbage bags due to the amount of blood and dumped his body where it was found in rural Meeker County.
Vega also admitted to removing sections of carpet that were stained with blood and disposing of them in a dumpster in Buffalo.
Investigators put together a timeline of events based on witness interviews, Vega's statement, evidence gathered via search warrants and through video surveillance.
- Vega picks Warnke up at AmericInn in Monticello on Dec. 28 at approximately 4 a.m.
- Vega and Warnke check out at Walmart in Buffalo on Dec. 28 at 4:36 p.m.
- Vega and Warnke enter Vega's apartment at 5:25 a.m. with bags from Walmart.
- Vega leaves his apartment and goes to the AmericInn to attempt to retrieve Warnke's property around 11:35 a.m.
- Vega returns to his apartment at 1:05 p.m.
- Vega brings an appliance cart from the garage into his apartment at 2:33 p.m.
- Vega brings rope into his apartment at 6:20 p.m., using it to tie Warnke's body to the appliance cart.
- Vega wheels Warnke's body out of his apartment on the appliance cart at 1:13 a.m., Dec. 29.
- At 1:17 a.m., Vega drives Warnke away, with Warnke's body, still tied to the appliance cart, sticking out from the open trunk.
- Vega dumps Warnke's body at 1:53 a.m.
Investigators reviewed surveillance video and learned that Warnke never left Vega's apartment after entering at 5:25 a.m. on Dec. 28.
"The manner in which the defendant attempted to conceal the death of Justin Warnke and the lengths he took to dispose of his body illustrate overwhelming evidence of his intent and guilt," the criminal complaint concludes.