A preliminary hearing Thursday gave more information into a grisly double homicide in Madison County.
Mariah Lopez, a 13-year-old, was decapitated and her grandmother, Oralia Mendoza, was also killed. Investigators now believe the case has connections to a drug cartel.
26 year-old Yoni Martinez Aguilar, one of the capital murder suspects, appeared before a judge on Thursday.
Aguilar kept tight-lipped as he entered the courtroom. Madison County investigator Stacey Rutherford took the stand for nearly an hour talking about what led up to this this double homicide and how they narrowed in on their two suspects, Aguilar and 34-year-old Israel Gonzalez Palomino.
In court, investigators found out that days before the murder, Aguilar, Palomino, Mendoza and her friend Laticia went to Norcross, Georgia to pick up a large amount of drugs. Something on that trip made Palomino and Mendoza get into a deadly argument.
Investigators said Palomino was once romantically involved with Mendoza, but it was Aguilar who was currently dating Mendoza at the time of the murder.
On June 7, deputies were called to a wooded area on Lemley Drive where Mariah's body was found. From there authorities learned the 13-year-old's grandmother was her primary guardian and was also missing. Family members told investigators about the grandmother's friends and who may have seen her last.
Palomino and Aguilar both went willingly to be interviewed by investigators.
The Madison County Sheriff's Office interviewed both Aguilar and Palomino, but the investigator said it wasn't until the second interview that Aguilar spilled more information and demonstrated how the murders happened. He told investigators where Mariah's body could be found once authorities told him that their cellphone pings put them at the location.
According to Rutherford, Aguilar helped authorities locate Mendoza's body near Moon Cemetery on Cave Springs Road more than a week after Mariah's body was found.
Aguilar told investigators that Palomino held his hand with the knife and moved it back and forth to behead the 13-year old.
Authorities believe the murders happened on June 4.
Aguilar claims Palomino killed Mendoza. Investigators say he told them that he was sitting in the passenger seat while Palomino and Mendoza were outside talking. That’s when he said he saw Mendoza's arms slide down the car and Palomino jump in the car and leave with Mariah in the backseat.
In court, the investigator added that Aguilar told them that they had to kill Mariah because she witnessed her grandmothers murder. Mendoza was Mariah's main guardian. Mariah was also on the autism spectrum.
Investigators added that Mendoza and Laticia had connections to drug operations with the Sinaloa cartel.
Some of the victims family were inside the courtroom Thursday. They were all in tears and as the investigator was going into detail about how the 13-year-old was decapitated. One of them had to leave the courtroom.
Aguilar’s case will now go before a grand jury.
Palomino will see a judge next week for a different drug charge.