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‘Now she is free.’ Fort Worth woman’s murderer sentenced to 35 years

·3 min read

When Jennifer Diaz was murdered in 2019, it was unclear if she would receive a proper funeral because authorities could not find her family.

Her friend Rebecca Shingledecker worried that Diaz might not receive a burial, let alone justice. However, on Wednesday, the man who murdered the 43-year-old woman in Fort Worth was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Salomon Marquez Sandoval, 22, pleaded guilty Wednesday to Diaz’s murder before Judge Robb Catalano in Tarrant County Criminal District Court No. 3.

On June 19, 2019, Marquez Sandoval stabbed Diaz to death inside a motel room in the 7500 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard West. The then 19-year-old wrapped Diaz’s body in sheets and plastic and left her in the bathtub. Police arrested him the same day, according to a search warrant affidavit written by Detective Matt Anderson, who was also in court on Wednesday.

Shingledecker got a call about her friend’s death a few days later. She had known Diaz for four or five years after Shingledecker started mentoring Diaz in the Reaching Independence through Successful Empowerment (RISE) program — a Tarrant County program that helps “vulnerable women with extensive histories of prostitution or prostitution-related offenses.” Shingledecker also led Bible study at the Esther House, a ministry of the Southside City Church in Fort Worth, where Diaz had lived for a time.

Jennifer Diaz, left, and Rebecca Shingledecker
Jennifer Diaz, left, and Rebecca Shingledecker

Diaz had a history of sex work and drug addiction, Shingledecker said, and had been in and out of prison. Diaz had been abused throughout her life, Shingledecker said, but she had hopes for a more joyful future where she could be reunited with her son.

“She spent so much of her life hurt and abused,” Shingledecker said. “But now she is free and at peace for the first time in her entire life.”

On Wednesday, Shingledecker read a letter in court after Marquez Sandoval was sentenced. The 46-year-old intently watched the defendant, who wore a green Tarrant County Jail jumpsuit, as her words were relayed to him through a translator.

“Jennifer Diaz is more than a statistic,” she said from the stand, her eyes on Marquez Sandoval. “She is more than the choices she made or what was done to her and how her life ended. She is a mom, a friend, a child of God. She is loved, missed and worthy of more respect than this world showed her.”

Jennifer Diaz was found dead inside a west Fort Worth motel in 2019.
Jennifer Diaz was found dead inside a west Fort Worth motel in 2019.

Shingledecker told the court how Diaz had a rough start at life from infancy and was horribly abused growing up. Despite that, Diaz had a “beautiful, forgiving heart” and was caring and motherly with younger women who needed guidance. In letters Shingledecker and Diaz exchanged when Diaz was in prison, Diaz wrote poems about her love for God and her forgiveness for those who had hurt her.

When Diaz was murdered, authorities could not locate her family at first, and she was nearly buried without a proper funeral. But Shingledecker raised awareness and money for Diaz’s funeral, and Mansfield Funeral Home, Erinn’s Creations Florist and DFW Metro Motorcade all offered free services for Diaz’s funeral.

Fortunately, due to Shingledecker’s efforts, someone who knows Diaz’s family saw news reports about her and told the woman’s family, who lived in Colorado City. Relatives made arrangements to bring Diaz home, where she was buried among family members.

To further commemorate her friend, Shingledecker raised money for a memorial bench and plaque to be installed on the Trinity Trail. About half a mile from Press Cafe, a black stone rests in front of a wooden bench. The stone has two photos of Diaz and the words, “Worthy, Loved, Missed,” inscribed on it.

At the end of the letter Shingledecker read in court Wednesday, she shared a poem Diaz wrote about God while she was in prison.

“Oh, how He has loved me,” the last line of the poem says, “And taught me how to be free.”

To commemorate her friend, Rebecca Shingledecker raised money for a memorial bench and plaque to be installed on the Trinity Trail in honor of Jennifer Diaz.
To commemorate her friend, Rebecca Shingledecker raised money for a memorial bench and plaque to be installed on the Trinity Trail in honor of Jennifer Diaz.

This story contains information from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s archives.