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Elias Pimienta wants some answers.

He said he wants to know why his brother, Leoncio Pimienta, 50, was brutally gunned down in St. Helena a year ago today and how the accused killer, Nicolas Villalobos-Olivera, 31, of St. Helena, managed to escape a massive manhunt that involved nearly every police agency in the county.

"There has been no justice," he said recently.

At the same time, he said, "I have faith that the (St. Helena) police department is doing all that they can and find my brother's killer."

Leoncio Pimienta was shot seven times on July 22, 2004. The shooting took place on the corner of Pope and Edwards streets, not far from Main Street in busy downtown St. Helena.

Robert Wedell, St. Helena police chief, said Villalobos-Olivera fled on foot and made his getaway in a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass. A manhunt consisting of Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena and California Highway Patrol officers, along with Napa County sheriff's deputies, was unsuccessful in finding the killer.

Two days later, on July 24, police obtained and executed a search warrant at Villalobos-Olivera's home on the 1000 block of Allison Street in St. Helena. Wedell said officers found evidence that pointed to Villalobos-Olivera's guilt.

After officially naming the suspect on August 9, police charged Villalobos-Olivera with the crime and sent out a nation-wide alert.

Elias Pimienta said the St. Helena Police Department had a good window of opportunity to capture his brother's killer, but let it close. He said that witnesses told him that the first officer to respond to the scene, about two minutes after the shooting, was told who the killer was and the direction he had gone.

"He chose instead to stay with my brother, to try and save his life," Pimienta said. "Why did he stay with my brother if he was already dead? It didn't do any good. He should have just run after him. I think the cop was scared to follow him."

Wedell said his department has heard that claim and that it does not have merit.

"The window of opportunity theory, I don't think accurately describes a real-world police officer. The officers that responded, I believe responded appropriately. (Villalobos-Olivera) knew where he was going he had a good lead and was able to get across the street to his car. That's our theory."

Neither Pimienta nor Wedell are sure why Villalobos-Olivera killed Leo Pimienta, a native of El Grullo, Jalisco, Mexico, who was known as a friendly face in the community and helped his countrymen get work and meals. They agree, however, that it has something to do with the relationship between Pimienta and Villalobos-Olivera's mother, Natividad.

"He never wanted a serious relationship with her," Elias Pimienta said. "They knew each other for years, but were dating only for a few months. He broke it off with her and everyone went their separate ways."

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Elias Pimienta said that after the relationship ended, his brother began dating a younger woman. His new girlfriend started crowing around town that Leoncio preferred her over Villalobos-Olivera's mother because she was younger, he said.

"That infuriated Nico," he said, referring to Villalobos-Olivera. "But it wasn't my brother saying these things, it was his girlfriend. If Nico was that angry with my brother, why didn't he just fight him with his hands? He could have just as easily gotten his frustration out on him."

Wedell said there is nothing he would like more than to ask Villalobos-Olivera why he killed Pimienta, but fears that he may not get the chance.

"It's speculated that he has left the country," he said. "It's not a closed case. I don't even want to consider this case as an unsolved case."

Wedell said there are protocols for dealing with foreign countries and that the St. Helena Police Department wouldn't be the ones to go after Villalobos-Olivera outside of its jurisdiction. He said local police are counting on agencies outside of their jurisdiction to help capture Villalobos-Olivera.

The case has been referred to the Napa County District Attorney's Office, he said. Mark Boessenecker, chief deputy district attorney, would not comment on what they were specifically doing to bring Villalobos-Olivera to justice.

Wedell urges anyone who knows the whereabouts of Villalobos-Olivera to share information and try to convince the suspect to turn himself in. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact investigator Jane Hinshaw at 967-2850.


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