Leonardo Villarreal wielded an ax handle, Denton police say. James Auxier used his boot. It was a cold and rainy night in late February outside Jack’s Tavern off Elm Street in Denton when their confrontation with another tavern customer, Kenneth Wayne George, erupted in the parking lot. George died four days later at Presbyterian Hospital in Denton.
Villarreal, 38, and Auxier, 30, have been charged with the 58-year-old Krum resident’s murder. Their bail was set at $100,000 each, which both posted shortly after their arrest Thursday.
George was laid to rest March 4. He was known to be a good Texas hold 'em poker player and always had time to help a friend.
“He was just the kind of guy who didn’t hesitate to help those in need,” one Krum resident wrote on Legacy.com.
George grew up in Sanger but settled in the small town of Krum, about 8 miles northwest of Denton, according to his online obituary.
“He loved the outdoors with family and friends,” the obit reads. “He was a loving son, husband, father and grandfather. His great love was his children and his granddaughter. Kenneth will truly be missed.”
George was survived by his father, wife, son, daughter, granddaughter, sisters and extended family.
Villarreal's and Auxier's claims about the confrontation outside of Jack’s Tavern painted them as the victims. According to their arrest affidavits, they told Denton police that George smashed out the driver's side window of Auxier’s pickup and tried to attack them with a stick. Villarreal claimed he was defending himself when he punched George and knocked him unconscious.
Denton police later obtained surveillance video from Jack’s Tavern and cameras in the parking lot of the strip center that showed a far different picture.
“During the investigation, evidence showed that James and Leonardo’s initial statements on February 20 were not truthful,” Denton police spokesperson Shane Kizer wrote in a March 9 press release.
Denton police had arrested George for criminal mischief based on Villarreal’s and Auxier’s statements although he appeared to be the victim of assault, with a laceration to his left eye and fractured eye socket. He wasn’t taken to jail but to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton for treatment. Hospital staff checked out his injured eye, treated it for fractures to the orbital socket and sent him home. It’s unclear if any other tests were conducted.
On his way to the hospital, George told police that he smashed Auxier’s pickup window but that one of the pair had sucker-punched him first. Denton police decided to allow him to turn himself in later.
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At some point after the confrontation, Denton police followed up with George’s wife, Laura George, who provided a more detailed account of the incident. She claimed that her husband was leaving the tavern when someone walked up behind him and punched him. George then grabbed a stick that resembled an ax handle from under his seat, walked over to the pickup where Auxier and Villarreal were, and smashed out the window. The last thing George claimed to remember was Auxier getting out of the pickup and sticking a gun in his face.
Surveillance footage revealed more details. According to the arrest warrant affidavit, footage shows Villarreal walking up behind George and striking him with the ax handle. He used a two-handed grip to strike George several times in the head and torso. George fell to the ground out of view as Villarreal continued to strike him. Auxier then appeared in the video, jumping in the air and stomping on George, who was still on the ground.
Four days later, paramedics rushed George back to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The Texas Medical Examiner’s Office in Tarrant County said he died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen and ruled his death a homicide.
Villarreal and Auxier were arrested and charged with murder Thursday night. Both had previous arrests from assault charges involving other victims. According to Denton County court records, Villarreal was also charged in 2005 for violating a protective order in relation to one of the assaults.