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Two suspects plead guilty in the killing of Army combat veteran in El Paso, receive lesser sentences than accomplices

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Two of the five suspects accused of capital murder in the death of an Army Veteran accepted plea deals in court Friday, District Attorney Bill Hicks confirmed to ABC-7.

They will each serve 35 years for murder.

Tristan Chilton and Adam Acosta pleaded guilty to being part of a deadly ambush on May 7, 2017 in El Paso. Tyler Croke, a young father who survived combat in Afghanistan, was attacked while showering at a friend's apartment. He was held at gunpoint, then stabbed to death. One of the suspects also slit his throat.

Five people were arrested and charged in the murder. Some of them were also soldiers. One suspect -- Stephanie Fernandez -- told El Paso Police investigators Croke was dealing drugs, and that some of the other suspects were looking for him. Brandon Olsen, Zachary Johnston, and Acosta claimed Croke owed them a tax. Fernandez told police the three men organized the tactical ambush.

The murder of Tyler Croke and the wait for justice was the subject of the Borderland Crimes podcast episode in May 2022. Click here to listen

Croke's family told ABC-7 they were aware of his involvement with drugs, and believed he was using drugs to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, they said Croke was never officially diagnosed.

Fernandez -- the getaway driver -- was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Johnston pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

After Friday's sentencing of Chilton and Acosta, Croke's mother sent this statement to ABC-7:

“The Croke family vehemently objects to such a light sentence offered to those defendants. They broke into Tyler’s apartment, ripped him naked out of the bathroom after getting out of the shower, fought him, beat him, forced him to retrieve the minuscule amount of drugs he had in his apartment then continued to torture him while he begged for his life. They repeatedly stabbed him and slashed his throat while he laid naked and dying in his apartment.

Those scumbags fled the apartment and proceeded to get fast food after they killed him. They bragged about almost cutting off his head. They thought it was funny.

We are now incredibly disappointed in DA Hicks and his office for offering such a light sentence to two animals charged with capital murder of my son, Tyler, who served honorably in combat in Afghanistan. Tyler recently separated from the Army before his murder and was scheduled to enroll in college to study psychology in the hope of assisting other veterans like himself who suffered from PTSD after serving in combat.

Our family let the DA’s office know that we object to the offer and have requested that the judge be made aware and that it is recorded in their records.”

Croke Family

On Friday, ABC-7 asked DA Hicks why the pair did not receive similar sentences to Fernandez and Johnston.

"In reviewing the culpability of the other two people who pled guilty, we felt that justice was served with the plea offer that they received, given their level of culpability in the criminal act," Hicks said. "We understand that the family of Mr. Croke did not necessarily agree with that. They wanted more, and I understand that. I sympathize with them," said Hicks.

"Their son was was brutally, brutally murdered. And, you know, that's, that's a horrible thing for any family member to go through, to know that their son was so brutally murdered. And I respect that. I really do," Hicks continued. "Ultimately, though, it is the state's responsibility to seek justice in the case and to move forward based on how we feel the evidence presents and what we feel culpability aligns with justice," Hicks added.

Hicks told ABC-7 he didn't want to go into additional detail because Olsen remains in jail, and his trial is rescheduled for May 13. Hicks said he will speak in more detail on the overall case once Olsen's trial is over.

ABC-7 will keep you updated on the outcome of this case on air, online, and on the KVIA news app.

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Kerry Mannix


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