Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, January 28, 2022

Who Killed the Tijuana Photojournalist? Both the CAF and the CJNG Are Accused

"HEARST" and "Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

The gun used to kill photojournalist Margarito Martínez was used in five previous 2020 shootings that were associated with the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generation (CJNG). Margarito had also recently gotten into a dispute with a man allegedly involved with a group from the Arellano Félix organization (Cártel Arellano Félix, CAF) led by David López Jimenez, alias “El Lobo”. 

These potential culprits will be examined in the following story, which includes a detailed timeline of the homicide, the medical autopsy findings, and an examination of the ballistic evidence trying his murder to cartel organizations.

Quick Review 

As previously covered on Borderland Beat, the photojournalist Margarito Martínez Esquivel was murdered on the morning of Monday, January 17, 2022. Martínez Esquivel worked as a journalist for Zeta Tijuana magazine and as a “fixer” assisting international outlets including the BBC, The San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He was 49 years old at the time of his death and had a two decade long career covering crime in the Baja California border city of Tijuana.

A month before his homicide, Martínez had made an official complaint about threats he had received via Facebook pertaining to his work as a journalist in order to receive specially allocated protections offered by the government.

His Funeral & The Vigils

On the morning of Friday, January 21, 2021, family and friends gathered together to bid farewell to Martínez with a funeral mass held at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart church in Tijuana, followed by a burial at the Santa Gema cemetery.

“He was a great man, someone who gave us everything,” said his wife, Elena Frausto, as she left the church.

His friend and colleague, Jesus Aguilar, who also covered the police beat said of Martínez “He taught me many things and the truth is, it hurts me a lot that he is not here anymore.”

Later that same day, a vigil organized by his colleagues in journalism was held at the monument known as Las Tijeras in downtown Tijuana. Reporters, photographers, and media directors placed candles, flowers, and photographs under the monument, and shared personal stories and memories they had of working with Martínez.

Journalists from the nearby cities of Ensenada and Mexicali held their own demonstrations during the week of his homicide. In Mexicali, journalists held a symbolic protest in his honor on January 19, 2022. In Ensenada, journalists collectively wrote a letter demanding justice and punishment for the perpetrator of Martínez’s homicide. They then hand delivered their letter to the police Homicide Unit on January 20, 2022.  

Then on January 23, 2022, a second Tijuana journalist named Lourdes Maldonado López was found dead of an apparent homicide in the Santa Fe neighborhood. The murder of two journalists within the city in the course of a week prompted the governor, Marina del Pilar Ávila, to announce that they would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the murders of both Martinez Esquivel and Lourdes Maldonado. 

Additionally, a federal government support task force was established in order to aid and assist the investigation into the murders. The task force has specialists from the National Intelligence Center, the National Defense Secretariat, the Navy, the National Guard and the Anti-Kidnapping Coordination.

The Timeline of Events in the Homicide

On the morning of Monday, January 17, 2022, Margarito Martínez Esquivel was at his home located on 5 de Mayo Street in the Sanchez Taboada neighborhood of Tijuana, with his wife and his daughter. 

At around 9:00 am Margarito’s wife María Elena told him that she was leaving for work and they said goodbye to each other. Later in the morning, Margarito left his home to cash a check. María Elena returned home later that morning. 

At 12:33pm, Tijuana police radio reported that there was a shooting on Laura Méndez Streets in the Playas de Tijuana neighborhood. The man injured by the shooting, Ricardo Figueroa Andrade, was claiming that cartel member “El Dani” was behind the attack. This type of cartel-related shooting was exactly the type of crime scene that Margarito regularly photographed. 

Sometime after 12:33 pm, Margarito came back home and parked his vehicle on the street outside. He entered his house and told his wife and daughter that he was just popping in for a minute because he had to leave in order to photograph a shooting he had just heard about on the police scanner. Margarito quickly used the bathroom and within two minutes of entering, Margarito was exiting his house. 

As Margarito walked towards his home’s front gate, his wife could hear Margarito answering his cell phone and talking to a journalist colleague about what he had heard on the police scanner. Margarito described it was a “5-Bravo”, which is a police code which means shots fired. He asked his colleague to get him more details about the location of the shooting and the phone call ended. 

After hanging up, Margarito closed his front gate and approached his car which was parked on the street. He opened the driver’s side door and had just barely sat down in the driver’s seat of his vehicle when a hitman appeared behind him, standing outside the vehicle. 

The family believes that when Margarito entered their house, the hitman took the opportunity to crouch down, hiding behind a car nearby. His wife insists that "he was always looking around, and based on his position and expression, it seems that he did not see him coming."

The hitman shot Margarito three times from behind. According to the autopsy, the firearm was held at least 60 centimeters (or 23.6 inches, just under 2 feet) away from Margarito while it was being fired. 

His wife and daughter heard the three gunshots from inside their home. Because wife María Elena was in the middle of changing clothes, she asked her 16 year old daughter to go check that Margarito had already left before the gunshots and his car was no longer outside. 

The daughter peaked through their front gate and saw that her father’s car was still there so she opened the gate and approached the car’s driver’s side. She saw her father lying injured from multiple gunshot wounds. By then, María Elena was at the open front gate of the house and her daughter ran back towards her crying, almost unable to stand up, while trying to get out that her father had been shot. 

María Elena called the emergency phone line asking for medical help, reporting that Margarito was injured with gunshot wounds and to please come quickly. By the time paramedics arrived, Margarito no longer displayed vital signs and was officially declared deceased. 

The Autopsy and Forensic Evidence

Dr. Cesar Gonzalez Vaca, head of the Forensic Medical Service in Baja California performed the medical autopsy on the body of Margarito Martínez Esquivel. 

According to the initial external examination, Margarito’s body showed evidence of three gunshot wounds, all with entry and exit wounds.  

"The first one, in the genian region -between chin and cheek- on the left side and exit in the parietal skull region, near the ear on the left side". This shot, forensic experts assume, was hit when Margarito's body was falling towards the steering wheel. It was the one that killed him.

"The second one, with entry in the occipital temporal region -by the ear-, on the left side and exit in the neck, on the right side.

"And the third one, with entry in the parietal temporal region on the left side, and exits frontal on the left side, this one was in the line, it went through a short space of skin", the doctor detailed.

The officially listed cause of death was "perforating wounds of the skull by firearm projectiles".

What looked like surveillance cameras were seen on a neighboring property, however, when the neighbors were asked for the footage they showed officers that the cameras were actually fake or inactive, left up purely as a deterrent for crime. 

Ballistic analysis was done on the 9mm bullets and bullet casings found at the crime scene. It was determined that the bullets came from a specific firearm that they had existing records of. 

Some possible lines of investigation include:

  1. A dispute with his neighbors.

  2. A former or active member of the CJNG who was known to be in possession of the alleged murder weapon.

  3. A confrontation Margarito had with Angel Peña, a man who covers Tijuana crime. Angel Peña is also allegedly involved in the Cartel Arellano Felix group which reports under David López Jimenez, alias “El Lobo”.

A Dispute with His Neighbors

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, municipal police officers asked Margarito’s family if the victim had problems with anyone. The officers were told that their family had been in a dispute since 2018 with two neighbors who lived on the right side of their house over property boundaries and flooding issues. They added that these disputes had become more consistent in the last year. 

One of the two neighbors, Juan, was rumored to have fled Tijuana when he heard that Margarito had been shot. 

The Martinez family began a legal process to formally identify and define where the property line was in between their home and their neighbors. 

On three different occasions, the Martinez family had to call the police to report that their neighbors had thrown manure on their vehicles or blocked parking access with stoves and other large appliances in an act of alleged retaliation. Within police evidence records, there are dozens of photographs and videos which show the manure and items used to block parking, lending credence to the family’s claims. 

However, Martinez’s widow said that "I would be lying if I said I saw any other kind of suspicious activity," from the neighbors. 

On the same afternoon that Margarito was shot, the FGE requested all the neighbors present to submit to a sodium rhodizonate test on their skin and clothing. 

This test is performed by spraying a weak solution of sodium rhodizonate followed up by the spraying of a buffer solution. The solutions show a visible color reaction if there is a presence of lead in any form, including vaporous lead, particulate lead, lead in primer residues, lead bullet, or shot pellet wipe. It is generally used to test for a pattern of gunshot residue along with the Modified Griess test. The neighbors complied with the requested test and their test results came back negative for lead. 

Neighbors also allowed entry to their homes that afternoon when requested and investigators found nothing incriminating. 

On the morning of Tuesday, January 18, the FGE agents returned to the neighbors' house for a more thorough search of both neighbor’s homes, having now obtained a search warrant. According to weekly magazine Zeta Tijuana, investigators found no incriminating evidence in the second search.  

The CJNG Murder Weapon

The ballistics of the 9mm pistol that was used to kill journalist Margarito matched the ballistic signature of a firearm which was used in five previous homicides. These five homicides happened in the summer of 2020, in rapid succession and all within the course of 40 days. Then for 18 months, the ballistic signature of the weapon did not appear in any Tijuana homicide which was examined and tested, the firearm seemingly being left unused.

The five homicides are detailed below.  

"The hypothesis is that all these deaths were carried out by the same [criminal] cell, of which there are three detainees," explained one of the investigators.

In October 2020, three of the four men that are believed to have participated in the July 6, 2020, home invasion were arrested. Those three were El Pocho, El Michoacano and El Chepe. 

One of the three has already been sentenced to 20 years in prison for homicide in an abbreviated trial. The two others are still awaiting trial and dealing with the legal formalities that come pre-trial. 

There is evidence to suggest that all three of the detainees worked as hitmen under the orders of Cristian Jonatan López Sanzen, alias "Cabo 64”, a CJNG leader within Tijuana. Cabo 64 is said to work closely with Rodolfo López Arellano, alias "Cabo 30". 

With this line of investigation, the FGE is trying to locate the members of this CJNG cell and follow the history of the firearm in the last 18 months.

A Confrontation with Angel Peña, the CAF affiliate

Angel Peña is a local Tijuana man who uses his Facebook page to broadcast live footage of crimes and police-related news. Angel Peña had a confrontation with Margarito Martínez last December, which was broadcast live by both men. 

During the December 13, 2022 dispute, Margarito began broadcasting live on Facebook because, as he told the audience, "they came and threatened me". He presumably wanted a recording of any further threats.

After Margarito says this, both men begin talking at once, making it hard to determine what is being said. 

When the noise lessens, a male voice (allegedly belonging to Angel Peña) can be heard saying “the only thing I’ve come to say is don’t focus on my identity and my vehicles whenever I’m live broadcasting.” Angel Peña apparently was angered because he believed that Margarito had filmed his face and his vehicles, as well as, presumably, their license plates which would identify Peña. 

Peña then says “Do not go around saying that I am a halcone of the Sanchez [Taboada neighborhood]." A halcone is a term literally meaning a “hawk”, which refers to a low-level cartel member who acts as a lookout, passing on information about police and rival cartel activity in the area. 

Angel Peña then talks directly to his Facebook live audience, defending himself by saying "I don't get paid," and “I don’t have a need to lick anyone's nuts.”

Angel Peña continues, saying to Margarito “I don’t care that you run the Tijuana En Guerra or Quemado Malandros pages." 

Here he is referring to two popular Facebook groups: Tijuana En Guerra and Quemado Malandros TJ (which translates as Exposing Scumbags TJ). Both Facebook groups cover Tijuana cartel activity and often expose the faces and real identities of cartel figures from the area. 

Peña seems to believe that Margarito sent his crime scene photographs to these Facebook groups or personally ran the groups. Margarito can be heard in the video denying that he was involved with either. 

Margarito’s widow also strongly denies that Margarito ever sent photographs to any Facebook groups. She insists that "He always said he was a photographer, not a policeman. He took and published photos, nothing more".

So, why would an alleged Facebook live crime reporter like Angel Peña be so concerned about being exposed? Well, it's important to note that Peña had previously been identified as a member of a Cártel Arellano Félix (CAF) group that is led by Carlos Omar Barba Preciado, alias “El Charly”. 

Peña’s status as an alleged subordinate of El Charly came to light during a police investigation into a series of kidnappings that occurred in July 2021. Peña was believed to be involved as a subordinate of El Charly in one of these cases, which remain open and still actively under investigation. 

All the cases in the series were believed to have been ordered by El Charly, who leads a group which uses colluding municipal police officers to abduct and deliver kidnapping targets. El Charly works under David López Jimenez, alias “El Lobo”. For more details on this group, please see this previous Borderland Beat story.

Angel Peña reportedly showed up to the crime scene of Margarito’s homicide on January 17 in order to cover the story on Facebook Live. When journalists who were friends of Margarito's saw Angel Peña approaching, they began yelling at him “You did this to him,” outraged that Peña  would dare to show up to the scene of the murder.

The next day, on January 18,  Angel Peña gave an interview to Imagen Noticias where he defended himself against accusations of being involved by saying “I don't hold fear with criminals. Because I feel that they're going to protect us instead of the police. I only ask that the Attorney General Investigate these matters properly.  Don't do this because you feel an obligation to the media either. I wouldn't want, as the dead are fond of saying, to be blamed for crimes I didn't commit.”

Later in the day, right before midnight, police arrived at Angel Peña’s house with a search warrant in hand. Some electronic devices were seized in Peña's house and are currently being reviewed, but the authorities did not find anything that immediately links him to the death of Margarito. 

They did however find small amounts of marijuana packages and he was presented before a judge on charges of drug dealing. 

"He will get out quickly because it is the first time and there are doses that, although they are classified as drug dealing, can be for personal consumption. We knew that this would happen and that he would accuse everyone, but we could not ignore the drug found in a search," said one of the investigators.

At approximately 7:00 am on the morning of January 26, 2022, a narco banner was hung on the Díaz Ordaz bridge in the La Mesa neighborhood of Tijuana.  A second banner, with the same message, was later discovered on Benítez Boulevard, also in La Mesa.

Alleged photos of the banner show text which reads, as translated by Sol Prendido:

To all authorities, 

The journalists Margarito Martinez Esquivel was killed by that filthy murderer of innocents David López Jimenez aka El Lobo 20 or La Bacteria. Because he suspected him of controlling the web pages where they speak solely against him and his rejects. Don't try too hard looking for him. 

Sincerely, CDS

It should be noted that Alfonso Arzate González, alias “El Aquiles”, of the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) has a long history of accusing CAF’s El Lobo of crimes through narcomantas. For a more comprehensive history of the narcomantas from Aquiles against Lobo, please see this previous Borderland Beat story

This is due to them fiercely contesting each other for control of the Sánchez Taboada neighborhood. Accusations against El Lobo of this kind are to be expected from Aquiles because increased law enforcement scrutiny on his cartel rival could only ever benefit him. 

Funeral & Vigils Sources: Zeta Tijuana Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, San Diego Union Tribune Article 1,  Article 2

Culprits Sources: Proceso, San Diego Union Tribune, Zeta Tijuana, Washington Post, Imagen Noticias, Garabato, La Verdad Noticias, Cadena Noticias


  1. Ndrangheta hit
    They takes over Tijuana and Baja now

  2. CdS are good at heating up the plaza

  3. No matter the impunity, this was a move that was made which was made with foresight, if it was one of those celulas.

  4. CJNG is good at heating up plazas.

  5. It was Cds just like they did in chihuahua

  6. It was CJNG just like they did in Zacatecas and Guanajuato.

  7. Comment on the reporting without the bullshit please. A lot to digest up there, without you all going off on a tangent. Read the article and comment on what you know and not what you think


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