The Murders of Jennifer Ertman & Elizabth Pena

Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, were beaten, gang raped, and strangled in Houston, Texas. Six gang members of the “Black and Whites” were convicted in their assaults and murders. Gang members Efrain Perez,17, Derrick O’Brien, 18, Peter Cantu, 18, Raul Villarreal, 17, Jose Medellin, 18, and Venancio Medellin, 14, received varying sentences according to their individual involvement including death sentences, life sentences, or life sentences with the possibility of parole.

The Day That Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena Disappeared

On June 24, 1993, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena had been at a pool party of a high school friend, Gina Escamilla. The teens had planned on spending the night at Pena’s home in the Oak Forest section of northern Houston, Texas, which was approximately one mile away. They had assured their parents that they would return home by their established 11:30 p.m. curfew. After enjoying the time with their friends, the teens left the pool party on foot. They didn’t want to chance being late for the curfew, so they took a shortcut that followed along the railroad tracks and the White Oak Bayou before cutting through a park named T.C. Jester Park.

The Black and Whites

The Black and Whites members Peter Cantu, Efrain Perez, Derrick O’Brien, Jose Medellin, and Ramon Sandoval had gathered around T.C. Jester Park to initiate Raul Villarreal, 17, into the gang. Venancio Medellin, Jose’s Medellin’s 14-year-old brother, and Frank Sandoval, Roman’s Sandoval’s younger brother, were also there with the group. The initiation that night consisted (in part) of Villarreal fighting each member individually. After fighting the members, Villerreal was accepted into the gang. While the group sat together drinking beer, they walked towards the area railroad tracks. The Sandoval brothers passed Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena as they walked down the path.

Jose Medellin, the 18-year-old Mexican national in the group, approached the teen girls on the trail. After a few minutes of trying to engage the girls in conversation, Medellin reached out and grabbed Pena’s breast. When she tried to get away, he grabbed her by her throat and threw her to the ground. He began dragging her toward where the group had congregated. Ertman heard Pena’s screams and attempted to aid her friend. Peter Cantu (the alleged gang leader) and Derrick O’Brien threw Ertman to the ground. Cantu yelled towards Roman Sandoval, asking him if he wanted to “get some”. Roman replied he didn’t rape or kill girls.

Once both girls were subdued, individual gang members raped both girls vaginally, orally and anally while the younger Medellin brother watched. During the events, Cantu approached the 14-year-old and suggested that he “get some” while he could and also stated, “We’re going to have to kill them.” The young man did, in fact, participate in the sexual attack of Ertman at least once.

When the young men were finished with their attack, Cantu directed them to take the girls further into the woods. The group beat the girls and kicked repeatedly, including Cantu kicking Pena in the face with his steel-toed boots hard enough to knock out three of her teeth. Cantu repeatedly stomped on Ertman’s neck until she stopped moving. O’Brien’s nylon belt was used to strangle Ertman until the belt broke. Then they used the girl’s own shoelaces. Shoelaces were also used to strangle Pena. All group members took turns stomping on both girls’ necks until they were sure that both girls were dead.

When the two girls did not arrive at Pena’s home, the police were contacted and the missing person’s reports were filed for both girls. The girl’s parents began looking for them, including posting flyers around the neighborhood.

Following the Attack

On the night following the attack, Peter Cantu, Efrain Perez, Jose Medellin, and Raul Villarreal went to the home of Joe and Christina Cantu, which was where Peter Cantu was living. When Christina questioned their appearance of blood soaked shirts and scratches, Medellin explained what the group had done. The group openly bragged about what they had done to the two teens. Peter Cantu had robbed the girls and divided the girl’s possessions among the group members. Christina convinced her husband, Joe Cantu, to report the crime to the police, which he did via the crime stoppers tip line. When officers began searching the area of the park, Joe called into the 911 dispatch center and explained exactly where to find the girls. Police discovered the bodies of Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena in T.C. Jester Park, four days after their death.

A telephone trace identified the caller as Joe Cantu. Detectives interviewed Joe and Christina Cantu and learned of the group’s activity once they had returned to the Cantu home. Investigators arrested each member of the “Black and Whites” for their crimes against Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena.

Arrests and Convictions

Peter Cantu gave investigators a full confession and was convicted of capital murder on February 3, 1994. A judge sentenced him to death on February 9, 1994. On January 29, 1997, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas ruled on an appeal filed by Cantu and his legal team, in which they raised forty-five different points of error with the original court proceedings. The courts denied the appeal. The extensive appeal report can be found here.

Several filings happened on behalf of Peter Cantu between 1997 and 2009. All federal and state requests regarding appeal, habeas relief, and the courts denied the appeal certificate of appealability were. Peter Cantu was executed by lethal injection on August 17, 2010, in Huntsville, Texas.

Derrick Sean O’Brien also gave investigators a full confession and a jury convicted him of capital murder on April 7, 1994. A judge sentenced him to death. O’Brien and his legal team filed several appeals and petitions from 1994 to 2006. All petitions were denied. O’Brien’s execution took place on July 11, 2006 at the Walls Correctional Facility at Huntsville, Texas, after the United States Supreme Court denied a last minute appeal.

Jose Medellin was convicted of capital murder in September 1994. He was later reported to be a Mexican national, not a US citizen. Controversy arose regarding the state of Texas being able to execute him. In 1997, Medellin learned that the Mexican consulate may have the authority to aid him. In 11998, Medellin and his legal team sent an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal, where his petition was denied. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations stated Medellin had a right to speak to his consulate. In 2004, the International Court of Justice officially stated that hearings should take place for any inmate in the judicial system that could not speak of their respective consulates. In 2005, President George W. Bush ordered all hearings to take place regarding any inmates held on any charges being allowed to meet with their respective consulates. Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz both argued that Texas was not required to honor any order from the World Court. After a last minute appeal with the United States Supreme Court (which was denied), on August 5, 2008.

In order to save time and money, Efrain Perez, Raul Villarreal, and Venancio Medellin were all tried on the same day, September 12, 1994, but in different courtrooms before different judges and juries.

A jury convicted Efrain Perez of capital murder. He was given the execution date of June 23, 2004, but the courts later changed his sentence to life without the possibility of parole because he was younger than 18 at the time of the crime. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Perez’s next Parole Review is scheduled for October 10, 2029.

Raul Villarreal was convicted of capital murder on September 21, 1994. He was given the execution date of June 24, 2004, but like Perez, his sentence was later changed to life without the possibility of parole because he was also younger than 18 at the time of the crime. He is currently serving his sentence in Huntsville, Texas. His next Parole Review is scheduled for September 20, 2029.

Venancio Medellin was convicted of aggravated sexual assault on September 30, 1993, for his attack on Jennifer Ertman. A judge gave him the maximum juvenile 40-year sentence according to the juvenile sentencing guidelines. He is currently serving his sentence at the Polunsky Facility in Livingston, Texas. His projected release date is June 29, 2033.

Patricia Lourdes Lopez

Following the arrest of Derrick Sean O’Brien, investigators learned that O’Brien, Peter Cantu, and Jose Medellin had sexually assaulted, raped, and stabbed to death, Patricia Lourdes Lopez, 27, in a back parking lot in Houston’s Melrose Park. The medical examiner determined that, besides the stab and slash wounds on Patricia’s body, she had also been strangled while in a kneeling position. Her body was discovered on January 4, 1993, just six months before the deaths of Ertman and Pena. O’Brien’s fingerprints were compared to beer cans located at both locations and found to be a match. O’Brien confessed to his part in Lopez’s murder during his interview regarding Ertman and Pena. Seminal DNA evidence from Lopez, Ertman, and Pena was matched to Jose Medellin.

The Aftermath

Jennifer Lee Ertman and Elizabeth Christine Pena were both laid to rest approximately 200 yards from each other at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Houston, Texas. Memorials for both girls are located at the Waltrip High School in Houston, where they were both students. Mourners set up another memorial at the T.C. Jester Park where they perished.

Following the deaths of Ertman and Pena, the Texas Criminal Justice System underwent legislative reform that would allow family members to address the convicted and now give family members the choice to view executions of those who are guilty of crimes against their perished family members.


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