FORT WORTH — The two men on trial in the contract killing of a Mexican drug cartel lawyer in Southlake didn’t pull the trigger, but prosecutors say they were the big game “hunting guides” who told the assassins when to take their shots.
That was how Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua T. Burgess described the role of two cousins who are on trial in the May 2013 slaying of Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa.
Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, a private investigator and ex-police officer from Mexico, planned the sophisticated tracking of Guerrero, Burgess said during opening statements Tuesday in a federal courtroom.
His son, Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Campano Jr., has pleaded guilty to helping his father and will testify for the government.
The father's cousin, José Luis Cepeda-Cortes, is accused of helping them by performing public records searches to find the victim at his house in Southlake. He also helped with the spy cameras, authorities said.
‘Big game hunting’
Ledezma-Cepeda and Cepeda-Cortes are both on trial.
“In the world of big game hunting, hunters need a guide,” Burgess said. “It’s the role of the guide to lead the hunter … these two defendants played the role of hunting guides.”
But their prey was human, he said.
The hit on Guerrero was ordered by Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, a leader of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel who went by “El Gato,” Burgess said.
The motive was revenge for the murder of his father about a decade earlier, for which he held Guerrero responsible, Burgess said.
The two cousins watched Guerrero Chapa from across a small pond at Southlake Town Square as a white SUV pulled up behind his Range Rover.
The gunman, a hood and scarf covering his face, got out and shot the victim as he sat in the passenger seat.
The shooter and getaway driver are fugitives.
Burgess told the jury that the defense will argue that Guerrero Chapa, a Gulf cartel lawyer, was involved in illegal activity.
“No one deserves to be murdered,” he said.
The plot began in June 2011, he said, around the time Guerrero Chapa purchased a $1.2 million home in Southlake under an assumed name.
“The victim was aware that people were looking for him,” Burgess said.
Ledezma-Cepeda was in constant contact with Gato in the days leading up to the murder, Burgess said. Ledezma-Cepeda even kept a GPS tracker on his own vehicle so that Gato would know his whereabouts.
He said his cousin was in charge of “command and control” for the operation, buying air fare, registering the trackers and identifying
the victim’s home.
the victim’s home.
“Without their involvement, Mr. Chapa would still be alive,” Burgess said.
No intention to kill
Wes Ball, an attorney for Ledezma-Cepeda, said his client was forced by Gato to take the job. His family lived in Monterrey, unprotected, he said.
“This is not a job offer,” Ball said. “This is a different world. Mr. Ledezma does what he is told. He has no choice.”
The cartel knows where he is at all times because of the GPS tracker on his vehicle, Ball said.
But Ball said his client never intended for anyone to be killed.
Robert Rogers, an attorney for Cepeda-Cortes, said his client knew his cousin as a former police officer and decided to help him as any family member would do.
Rogers said his client was used and manipulated by his cousin and knew nothing about a murder plot.
“He is outside the loop,” he said.
DD; (material from NBC News) With both sides having presented their opening statements, testimony should get underway tomorrow. The prosecution is expected to start testimony with expert testimony by a Blackberry employee to testify about Blackberry's messaging system, which is known for its encryption, and "records related to the use of Blackberry phones."
An employee of Blackline GPS, a company which rents satellite tracking devices, will testify about the electronic gadgets allegedly used by the defendants and placed on Guerrero's car. A person only identified as a "cooperating witness" will talk about the "language used among drug dealers."
And of course their star witness, Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Campano Jr., son of defendent Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, has pleaded guilty to helping his father and will testify for the government.
The Govt. had asked for 60 hours to present their case, but the judge granted only 35 hours.
As I said in a previous story, the defenses only strategy is to "convict" the victim., to make him into such a bad guy that the jury will vote on their emotions rather than the facts presented in this case.
The government may try to soften any impact of any evidence the defense may present to vilify the victim, Guerrero Chapa In a recent filing by the prosecution, gave notice of intent that it "may" use email and tracking device evidence to show the defendants have been involved in up to 12 other murders..
Government Motion to Use Evidence
The Govt. wants to be prepared to show these defendants were not exactly choir boys who got involved in the Chapa murder by happenstance or circumstance thinking their only job as private detectives was to locate Chapa without having any knowledge of the planned murder.
According to U.S. prosecutors, the defendants were involved in the following murders both before and after the Southlake attack:
- Luis Cortes Ochoa, the former undersecretary of security in the Monterrey suburb of San Pedro Garza. He was gunned down in his pickup on Feb. 24, 2010. Ledezma-Campano and Ledezma-Cepeda had placed a tracking device on his vehicle, prosecutors said.
- Dionicio Cantu Rendon, he was reported missing on Feb. 3, 2012, and is presumed dead. Ledezma-Cepeda's emails link him to the slaying, prosecutors said. Cantu is not identified further and no other details were mentioned in the court document.
- Eliseo Martinez Elizondo, who was murdered almost exactly a month before Guerrero. All three suspects followed him using the same tracking device they used to follow Guerrero, prosecutors said. Elizondo also was a U.S. informant and, like Guerrero, was involved with Mexican casinos, according to the Monterrey newspaper Reporte Indigo.
- Felipe Cantu Lozano, found murdered on Sept. 30, 2013.
- Juan Cantu Cuellar, killed the same day. Investigators found the victims' names in Ledezma-Cepeda's emails. The content of the emails was not disclosed and no other details of the murders were released.
- Hector Javier Alvarez Reyna, 47, was gunned down in Monterrey the following month. He was killed near his mother's business where he worked. According to Mexican news reports, Alvarez was an ex-con who had served time for drug-related crimes. Prosecutors reported finding Alvarez's name in Ledezma-Cepeda's emails.
- Rolando Caballero Diaz. The Ledezmas tracked him in August 2014 and he was "subsequently kidnapped and presumed dead," prosecutors say.
- Artemio Gonzales-Wong, a top police official in the Monterrey suburb of Guadalupe, and three others. The four were gunned down in a vehicle while driving down a Monterrey street on Oct. 27, 2014. The leader of a political organization, Humberto Reyes Martinez, was gravely wounded in the attack and died nine months later.
- Moises Tijerina de la Garza, Guerrero's brother-in-law and former municipal treasurer in a Monterrey suburb. On Feb. 23, 2016, he was shot six times with a 9-millimeter pistol when he walked out of a Monterrey bakery, according to Mexican news reports. His name also was found in the men's previous emails, prosecutors said.
At the time of their arrests in September 2014, Ledezma-Cepeda and Ledezma-Campano were still searching for two other men, including Guerrero's brother, Armando Guerrero-Chapa, according to the court document.
According to prosecutors, the father and son Ledezmas continued participating in other cartel activities in the U.S. in the months after Guerrero's murder, helping an accused drug dealer named Casimiro Bautista flee. An indictment in October 2013 accused Bautista of running a large-scale marijuana smuggling operation.
The Ledezmas picked him up near the U.S.-Mexico border "at the time of his flight," prosecutors say.
Bautista was rearrested and in January agreed to a plea agreement, admitting he had transported more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from Mexico, through the Rio Grande Valley, and to regional distributors in Tennessee and Florida in hidden compartments in semi-trucks and campers.
Bautista, also known as "Vecino" or "Sasquatch," agreed to forfeit $1.5 million. He has not yet been sentenced.
DEFENSE TO ASK ABOUT VICTIM'S "ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES" WHILE U.S. INFORMANT
Attorneys for one defendant, Cepeda-Cortes, filed a list of potential witnesses 57 names long. They include 19 FBI agents, 11 DEA agents and assorted other investigators and experts.
The defendant's attorney said the witnesses would testify about the information Guerrero provided to federal agents about Mexican drug cartels that led to the U.S. seizure of cartels' "assets."
The attorney said the information "ultimately resulted in the kidnapping and release of [Guerrero's] family based on the agreement that those organizations would no longer be targeted by [Guerrero]."
It did not specify when the kidnapping happened or whether it occurred in Southlake or somewhere else.
The attorneys also said their witnesses "will testify regarding the investigation into the illegal activities of [Guerrero] while [Guerrero]was a [U.S.] informant" and "the means used specifically by his drug operation to avoid interference from law enforcement."
Government Motion to Use Evidence