Initial autopsy results show that 4-year-old Esmerelda Nava was strangled or suffocated, authorities said Monday. The suspect in her death, 24-year-old Cornelio Rivera Zamites, still is on the run from murder, kidnapping and child molestation charges. Zamites may have gotten at least a six-hour head start between the time Jesus and Veronica Nava reported their daughter missing from a relative's home on Pratt Reece Road to 7 a.m. Sunday when her body was found in woods a couple hundred yards away.
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said authorities have no clues as to whether Zamites still is in Georgia. "We want every lead," Cronic said, adding that the hunt has been expanded to "every known associate" of Zamites. State and federal law enforcement agencies have joined the manhunt, with the U.S. Border Patrol alerted that Zamites may be headed home to Vera Cruz, Mexico. If Zamites makes it across the border, Cronic said it is unlikely that Mexico would send him back to Georgia for capital prosecution. Hall authorities could not determine Zamites' criminal history in Mexico. But Cronic said that contact with residents in his native village revealed that "he wasn't a good citizen there." As the search continued Monday night, Jose Alfaro Flores, a 29-year-old associate of Zamites, remained without bond at the Hall County Detention Center. Flores, an undocumented Gainesville resident, has been charged with giving police false information and violating immigration laws. Flores, also known as Jose Delgado, was arrested about 10:30 p.m. Sunday in a red Chevrolet sport utility vehicle. He is suspected of helping Zamites escape. "He denied any contact (with Zamites) in the last 24 to 36 hours," Cronic said. "We're not sure we're getting all the information."
Zamites had few close friends locally, but may have some family in the area, Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Strickland said. The suspect reportedly worked as a day laborer in and around Gainesville and Jefferson. Zamites rented a room in a residence on Pratt Reece in East Hall, Strickland said. Authorities have searched most suspected hangouts, stopped cars, responded to calls and checked every home in a 5-mile radius. Cronic declined detailed comment on if or how Zamites knew the victim, but said there are some "casual relationships," possibly between her family and him. Strickland could not release what evidence investigators have against Zamites, but said it was strong enough for a judge to issue a murder warrant. [June 2005]