Nearly two years to the day of the gruesome crime, Esteban Tabarez was
convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the stabbing
death of then 19-year-old Zachary Leon, a Colorado art student. Tabarez
was 21-years-old at the time.
“Two things made this murder particularly heinous,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the Mission Detective Division. “Tabarez stabbed the victim over two dozen times and slit his throat, and the victim never saw the attack coming.”
Leon and Tabarez met that night, Nov. 6, 2010, after connecting through a website. They met at Tabarez’s house on Bombay Street in Sylmar and later drove to McDonald’s for a late-night snack.
Tabarez attacked Leon while the two sat in a car in front of Tabarez’s house just after 2 a.m. on
Nov. 7, 2010. By all accounts, a simple comment by Leon calling Tabarez a tease may have been the slight that sent Tabarez into a rage, stabbing and slashing Leon dead and leaving Tabarez covered in the victim’s blood.
When officers arrived, Tabarez told a story of three men robbing Tabarez and Leon as they sat in the car. Tabarez ran away, but returned to find Leon dead. Officers believed the story at first, but as they poured over the crime scene, Tabarez’s story did not add up. Officers found two knives on Tabarez when they searched him. Later, they also found text messages on Tabarez’s phone that implied a malicious intent. He wrote to a girlfriend sometime after Leon’s arrival but before the murder, “…I might make someone disappear tonight.”
Tabarez was booked that morning and prosecutors filed murder charges two days later. “One can only imagine the fear that passed through Zachary Leon’s mind as he struggled to live,” said Vernon. “The lesson here is to avoid risky behavior, like meeting someone from the internet. There are far more psychopathic people out there than most people realize, and they prey on unsuspecting, innocent personalities.”
LAPD accepts anonymous tips, and they can be called into Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477) or by texting 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cellphone. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.” Online tips may be placed at www.LAPDOnline.org by clicking on “webtips” and following the prompts.
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