Update: Zachary Mueller has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Greeley's Pedro Adrian Dominguez, whose body was stuffed inside a barrel found floating in a creek at a remote location in Nebraska; our previous coverage has been incorporated into this post.
At the hearing where punishment was meted out, Mueller's attorney said her client, who is thought to have been under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the killing, started using meth at age eleven.
While no motive for the murder was firmly established at trial, the working theory is that drugs were the driving force behind the slaying, accomplished with a single shot to the back of Dominguez's head — although a tangled web of personal relationships may have also been a factor.
As we've reported, a rancher discovered Dominguez's remains on December 4, 2015; the barrel wound up near a bridge crossing Willow Creek on County Road 104 in Morrill County, Nebraska. The rancher called authorities after he saw a boot thought to have belonged to Dominguez.
The next day, according to police reports obtained by the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, a man with ties to Mueller contacted authorities. He was subsequently revealed to be Danny Hopwood, who testified that he'd helped Mueller attach a sealing ring to a barrel on November 24 at the suspect's home, located in the community of Bridgeport. Hopwood maintained that Mueller had told him he didn't want to know what was in the barrel.
According to the aforementioned documents, Hopwood told police the barrel had been in close proximity to a blue Volkswagen Beetle whose passenger seat had been removed — and the next day, December 6, a burned-out Volkswagen Beetle matching the description of the vehicle was eyeballed north of Bridgeport.
Dallas Schnell, Mueller's significant other, later told police that on November 22, her beau had met with Dominguez, nicknamed Chapo, and Felicia Talley, who was both Pedro's then-girlfriend and a previous paramour of Mueller's, with whom she'd had a child — the reason for the couple's visit to Nebraska.
At the time, Schnell had noticed that the car had Colorado license plates. Two days later, she went on, Mueller returned with the same ride — but by then, the license plates had been removed, as had the front passenger seat.
Schnell agreed to rent him her own car for $150, the documents' narrative continues, and left the VW behind. But as news reports about the barrel came to the fore, she began to suspect that Mueller had been involved in killing Dominguez.
For that reason, she told investigators, she made the decision to burn the Beetle, with help from a friend.
That didn't prevent Mueller's arrest, though.
He was busted on December 6 in Cheyenne, after allegedly stealing another car and leading the cops in a chase.
Mueller has been in trouble with the law before, but the previous offenses were considerably more minor. He was convicted of theft in 2009 and possession of a controlled substance two years later.
During the trial, Talley testified that the various parties had used meth, with Mueller becoming "paranoid and crazy" as a result. Then, while riding in the VW to the Wyoming community of Evanston, she said, Mueller, who'd been seated in the back, shot fellow passenger Dominguez in the back of his head.
Shortly thereafter, Talley said she fled, eventually making her way back to Greeley. But she didn't snitch on Mueller at the recommendation of her mother, who's currently imprisoned for murder, and wound up selling the gun used in the killing for money and drugs.
In the end, Mueller was convicted of first-degree murder, use of a weapon to commit a felony and possession of a weapon by a felon. Yesterday, March 13, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, plus consecutive twenty-to-forty-year jolts for the weapon charges.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As for Dominguez, he was memorialized in the following Facebook post, shared shortly after news broke about his violent death:
Ya know, I had such an odd feeling too, even if you had wanted to be MIA for a few, you'd always hit me up still! No matter what! I just had such a strong feeling, cause you wouldn't respond at all! I passed by where you stayed and just thought of you instantly. I felt the need to just go and say hi or see what was up, but i couldn't due to timing. I just knew like I felt something within my heart and knew something was up! That very moment when I heard what had happened, my heart dropped to the floor, and the air from my lungs seemed to not flow out the same! The feeling that crossed over me when I had to imagine that horrible fuckin description, was just absolutely just startling. The feeling that had crossed when I had to realize the truth, was just so breaking. The feeling doesn't go away. At all. I am mind boggled, confused, heartbroken, and just down right not ok. Chapo, cousin, family, clique, chop, . . . . . fucckkk. . . . so so unreal! It feels as if I didn't even get to say bye, like I wasn't ready like I had and have so much to tell you still!. Like WTF really happened!? For real tho!? Ummmmmm, ????
One love! Rest In Paradise!
Here's a look at Mueller's booking photo.