Outside of a Circle K

Cold case: Despite announced suspects, no arrests have been made in the death of Robert Peña

Irene Zamora's family has gone through more than its share of tragedy over the past nine years.

But the most recent tragedy has yet to come with any sort of closure, leaving numerous brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins with a wound that cannot seem to heal.

"We've gone through a lot," said Zamora. "It's been very hard on all of us."

Zamora's mother and father died in 2003 and 2008, respectively, both from strokes. And in 2005, she lost brother Daniel Peña to a heart attack.

The latest death, however, was the most shocking.

Zamora got a call early in the morning of April 21, 2010, from Tucson police telling her that her brother, Robert Peña, had been found badly beaten outside of the Circle K at Valencia Road and Sixth Avenue.

Peña, 53, soon fell into a coma and was moved to hospice, where he died a little more than two weeks later. Police went public not long after his death to say they had identified two people they believed were connected to the death—likely the result of a robbery that went too far—but no arrests were ever made.

"They thought it was a robbery, but they can't prove it," Zamora said. "He wasn't with friends when it happened. He didn't have a wallet on him. It was probably trashed."

Zamora said her brother was probably at that Circle K because it was one of the places he frequented during his many stints of homelessness. Living on the streets had been an off-again, mostly on-again life choice for Robert Peña, a decision Zamora said was directly tied to their mother's death.

"He just couldn't deal with the death of our parents," Zamora said. "Especially our mother; she meant the world to him. After my mother died, it took a lot out of him."

Zamora said her brother was always welcome in her home and the homes of other family members who still lived in Tucson, most of whom were concentrated on the southside. He'd take them up on the hospitality on occasion, but usually chose to stay to himself. Taking handouts wasn't his preference, she said.

"He was not a person to just take money," Zamora said. "He'd panhandle sometimes, but usually, he asked for work. He'd find odd jobs to do, (like) mechanic work. He'd do landscaping. He'd volunteer at the senior center ... during the holidays. He was always helping others out."

Zamora wonders if Robert Peña's reputation for generosity might have led to his death. She said it was known by many that her brother had a food-stamp debit card that somehow had a large balance on it, and that he often would buy food for others in need. She recalls that he once bought an elderly woman a turkey at Thanksgiving.

"Someone could have been taking advantage of him," Zamora said.

Detectives have told Zamora they think there might have been a witness to the beating, though no one has come forward. The possibility of a witness gained credence a few weeks ago when, while visiting Robert Peña's grave, Zamora said she found an old hat of his resting on the gravestone.

"They think it had blood on it," Zamora said. "They're going to check it in the lab."

Tucson police did not respond to the Tucson Weekly's request for a case update.

Though Robert Peña was still battling his desire to be on the streets when he died, Zamora believes that she and her siblings—she has three sisters—would eventually have been able to convince him to come home and get his life together.

"I think things could have been a lot different," she said. "He had degrees in welding and mechanics. He was an artist. He could have done a lot with his life, but he just went the wrong way."

Anyone with information related to Robert Peña's death is encouraged to call 88-CRIME or 911.