Crime

Man told police his friend died from suicide. Cops say he killed him over social media posts

A 20-year-old Bradenton man who refers to himself in his Facebook bio as “Leader at Gangster City” is charged with killing another man over who allegedly posted “derogatory” comments about the suspect’s girlfriend, according to the Sarasota Police Department.

Detectives say Juan Jose Esparza claimed the victim killed himself on Oct. 18, but Esparza’s story soon began to fall apart.

According to court records, Esparza was initially arrested Oct. 19 and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and tampering with physical evidence in association with the investigation.

After further investigation, detectives charged Esparza with murder on Oct. 21.

About 10 p.m. Oct 19, police responded to a report of a possible suicide at the victim’s home in the 2000 block of Sixth Street East in Sarasota.

Detectives found Joel Diaz Sanchez dead, lying face down on the living room floor with a gunshot wound to the head, according to a police report.

The victim’s brother told police that he received a text from Esparza, claiming he witnessed Sanchez kill himself while video chatting with him on Oct. 18, police say.

The brother picked up Esparza after seeing the text the next day and the pair drove to the victim’s home where the brother called 911 after failing to make contact with the victim, according to the report.

Detectives say they went into the home and found a 9mm shell casing inside the home and a bullet hole in the ceiling — but no gun.

Detectives say neighbors told them they saw Esparza at the home about 11 p.m the day before and that he was specifically looking for the victim. When confronted with this information, detectives say Esparza changed his story and admitted he was there, but he denied killing Sanchez.

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Provided via Facebook

According to the report, Esparza said he had come to the home to confront the victim about the comments the victim made about his girlfriend and that he admitted that he had a 9mm handgun.

Esparza told detectives that he and the victim “cleared the air” and sat down to have a beer and that the gun was then placed on the table, according to the report.

Esparza said the victim began talking about his problems and suddenly picked up the gun and shot himself in the head, the report states.

Detectives say Esparza claimed to have panicked, picked up the gun and ran away.

According to the report, Esparza went home to his residence in the 5700 block of 10th Street East in Bradenton. His roommates confirmed that Esparza came home the night of Oct. 18 with a 9mm handgun, police said.

According to jail records, Esparza was on felony probation at the time of his arrest for resisting arrest with violence in Manatee County. He was arrested in November 2018 on the charge and sentenced to 24 months of probation and was required to take anger management classes.

He had been arrested just two months earlier in September of 2018 for carrying a concealed and unlicensed firearm, according to court records.

According to the homicide arrest report, Esparza’s girlfriend said that Esparza and Sanchez had an altercation via Facebook and that Esparza warned Sanchez he was coming over to confront him. The girlfriend told police she was tired of the drama and broke up with Esparza before he went to see Sanchez, which had made him even angrier, the report states.

The girlfriend provided a video of Esparza at the victim’s house on Oct. 18. She said Esparza had sent it to her.

In the video, Esparza calls out for Sanchez “in an antagonizing manner,” according to the report.

Another witness, Esparza’s roommate, told police that he overheard a phone argument between Esparza and Sanchez and that Esparza left the home. He implied he had a gun and that, “he was going to handle things,” the report states.

Detectives say the final piece of evidence is that Esparza took a taxi from his home in Bradenton to Sanchez’s home in Sarasota and the taxi driver was able to describe Esparza as the man he dropped off at the house around the time of Sanchez’s death.

Esparza was booked into the Sarasota County jail on charges of armed burglary and homicide. He also still faces the weapons and tampering charges.

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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