Houston Man Pleads Guilty to Murder, Sentenced to Life in Prison

Houston Man Pleads Guilty to Murder, Sentenced to Life in Prison

A Houston man who killed the driver of a parking-lot sweeping truck during an armed robbery in 2022 was sentenced to life in prison this week, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced.

“This was a premeditated and cold-blooded murder in which the defendant stalked a completely innocent husband and father who was just doing his job,” Ogg said. “It showed a truly callous disregard for human life, and even though we cannot bring back the victim, at least we have ensured that the defendant will spend decades behind bars.”

Ethan Caleb Thomas, 22, pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence for killing 50-year-old Jose Canales about 1 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2022.

Canales was driving a sweeping truck in a parking lot in the 19500 block of Tomball Parkway when he stopped to pick up debris that was between cars where the truck would not fit.

Thomas and another man who has yet to be identified drove into the parking lot in a 2003 silver Mercedes SUV and waited until Canales got out of his vehicle. They then drove up to Canales, stopped their SUV and got out wearing ski masks.

Surveillance video shows that Thomas confronted Canales and, as the two men argued, the other suspect went to the truck and rummaged through the cab, taking Canales’ phone and other belongings.

As the altercation escalated, Thomas hit Canales in the face with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. He then shot Canales once. The bullet went through his arm and into his chest.

Thomas and the other suspect then fled in the SUV while Canales went back to his truck and found that his phone had been stolen. Unable to call anyone for help, he died there.

A witness found Canales about 4 a.m. and called authorities. Deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office responded and began investigating. They were able to pull surveillance video identifying the type of SUV but not the license-plate number.

Detectives with the Sheriff’s Office used computer databases and worked with the Houston Police Department to identify a list of SUVs in the area that matched the killers’ vehicle. By working through this list, they eventually located Thomas, whose SUV matched all of the identifiers, including the sticker on the back window and the yellow air freshener hanging on the rearview mirror.

Cellphone records showed that Thomas followed Canales from a check-cashing store where he had just cashed a $70 check.

Assistant District Attorney Maroun Koutani, who is assigned to the DA’s Homicide Division, prosecuted Thomas with ADA Megan Long, who is a chief in the Homicide Division.

Koutani noted that Canales was a devoted husband and father who had diligently worked for the parking-lot sweeping company since 1997.

“Jose Canales was a hard-working member of our community, doing a necessary job that is often overlooked,” Koutani said, “while the defendant is someone who wanted to do things the easy way and take advantage of a member of our community.”

On Tuesday, a jury was selected for Thomas to go to trial on a charge of capital murder for robbing and killing Canales. If convicted, he would have been automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Instead, Thomas agreed to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence. As part of the plea agreement, he cannot appeal the conviction or the sentence. He will become eligible for parole after 30 years in prison.

Detectives with the Sheriff’s Office continue to investigate the murder to bring the second suspect to justice.