The husband of a young Texas mother found dead in her home staged her murder to look like a suicide – but the woman’s final diary entry, alongside post-mortem toxicology reports, led to his life sentence for her death.
Joel Pellot, a nurse anesthetist, dialed 911 early on Sept. 22, 2020 to report that his wife Maria Muñoz, 31, was unresponsive. She was “super depressed,” he told police, and may have overdosed on prescription pills.
The subsequent investigation – and the discovery of Muñoz’s final diary entry that painted a vastly different picture than her husband’s – is the subject of a new CBS “48 Hours” special that aired on Dec. 16.
Pellot, 45, had recently walked out of their home in Laredo, he said, and found the mother of his two children dead when he returned for a “heart-to-heart.”
The husband was wearing medical scrubs from work and performing chest compressions on Muñoz when Laredo Police arrived while their sons slept in the next room.
However, investigators immediately had doubts surrounding Pellot’s account, noting his nervous appearance, excessive sweating and inability to answer simple questions.
A syringe wrapper and needle catheter were reportedly found on the floor of their home when emergency responders arrived.
When asked what medication his wife could have taken, he went into another room to get her prescription clonazepam – but pocketed the bottle when police took over resuscitation efforts. Investigators interviewed for the special noted that, typically, those who overdose on pills are found with the bottle beside them.
The pills were also prescribed in Pellot’s name rather than Muñoz’s, investigators noted.
Footage of Pellot’s subsequent interrogation at Laredo Police Department headquarters, obtained by “48 Hours,” shows the man crying, screaming and erratically pushing furniture in the room when he was left alone – behavior that investigators found strange, per the special.
Although he admitted that the syringes in the house were his, he said that they were a part of his everyday work equipment and maintained that he did not play a role in his wife’s death. He was living at another woman’s house, he told police, and had gone to his wife’s home to talk about their devolving marriage. At some point after their conversation, he told police, Muñoz must have killed herself with pills.
A medical examiner later found no pill residue in Muñoz’s stomach – but he did spot a tiny puncture mark on her right elbow crease.
Muñoz did die of mixed drug intoxication, the medical examiner ruled – but conversations with the woman’s friends made investigators doubt that it was self-inflicted, per the special.
Upon learning of Muñoz’s death, Pellot’s boss, Dr. John Huntsinger, called a detective on the case to tell him that he was suspicious and to encourage the Laredo Police Department to order a full toxicology screening.
In the time before the toxicology screening was finished, Pellot wept over Muñoz’s casket at her funeral, which a friend found performative.
“What made me feel angry was him near the casket,” Yazmin Martinez told “48 Hours.”
“Crying over her, giving her kisses,” Martinez recalled. “Like why now? You have made her suffer and cry so much and you’re doing this now?”
When the report was completed four months later, no clonazepam was found in Muñoz’s system.
Instead, the results revealed Muñoz died from a fatal combination of morphine, Demerol, Versed, propofol, ketamine, lidocaine and Narcan – almost all drugs typically used in surgery and ones to which her nurse anesthetist husband would have access, per the special.
Propofol can only be administered by injection – there was so much of it in her system that it would have caused her to stop breathing, Huntsinger told filmmakers. Pellot also allegedly used the drug recreationally, according to his mistress, Janet Arredondo.
The woman’s diary entry, dated a day before she was found dead, showcased the mindset of a woman ready for change rather than a forlorn, jilted spouse: “What is it that I want? #1 Move Forward!”
An all-female team of prosecutors later argued that, based on her other diary entries, Muñoz wanted to keep her family together but accepted that he wanted to be with someone else.
Her meditations indicated that she was searching for “new beginnings” and “a better tomorrow,” in her own words.
The Saturday before Muñoz’s death, per the woman’s diaries and friends, she found an airline ticket for a European holiday that her husband planned to take with a female colleague from work.
Her suspicions of an affair with Arredondo were confirmed when she saw her husband’s car parked outside her home.
Arrendondo called police after the subsequent confrontation, who in turn called Muñoz, according to audio obtained by “48 Hours.”
“Hey, I’m f—ing talking to you right now,” Pellot could be heard telling his wife as she took the call. “Hang up the f—ing phone.”
She texted Pellot the next day to tell him that she was hiring a lawyer – before they arrived home the night before, per the special, he had punched a hole in her windshield.
“We can do this with minimal lawyer intervention. It’s too much money,” he texted back.
However, later that day, Pellot sent his wife a repentant email asking for their fateful “heart-to-heart.”
They agreed to meet – the next day, Muñoz was found dead. Before their scheduled talk, Muñoz sent a worried text to her close friend, per the special.
“I just ask if you can pray for me,” she messaged Martinez. “Tonight we are going to talk.”
Prosecutors believe that Pellot slipped his wife some of the drugs in a drink to sedate her before injecting the propofol into her arm. He waited long enough to dial 911, they surmised, so that first responders would have no chance of resuscitating her.
After nine days of trial, a jury found Pellot guilty of murdering his wife on March 30, 2023. He was later sentenced to life in prison and is currently incarcerated at the W.F. Ramsey Unit in Brazoria County, per the Texas Department of Corrections.
He will be eligible for parole in March 2053 at 75 years old, according to the agency.