2018-09-12 / News

Judge denies delay in trial

By Allen Essex

A second trial in the case of the murder of an off- duty Border Patrol agent near Santa Monica about four years ago is taking place in 197th state District Court in Brownsville.

Ismael Hernandez- Vallejo, 44, is on trial for capital murder for his alleged role in the shooting of Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr. of Kingsville, and attempted capital murder for the shooting of Vega’s father, Javier Vega Sr., of La Feria.

Attorneys for Hernandez-Vallejo claim he should not be eligible for the death penalty because of an intellectual disability but Judge Migdalia Lopez refused to allow a delay in his trial. She is allowing attorneys to pursue the claim that he is not eligible for a death sentence while the trial proceeds. Defense lawyers have consulted with an expert who claims he is not capable of understanding his case but prosecutors disagree.

Border Patrol Agent Vega, his father and other family members came under fire while fishing at a canal near Santa Monica because their attackers were trying to steal their vehicle, allegedly for use by a drug cartel.

The defense expert has diagnosed Hernandez- Vallejo with a mild intellectual disability.

Assistant Willacy County District Attorney Chuck Mattingly has 60 days for his expert to review the defense’s expert’s findings.

Meanwhile, more than 250 people are in the “voir dire” process in order to select a jury.

Co-defendant Gustavo Tijerina- Sandoval of La Villa was convicted in a jury trial in May and was sentenced to death.

Appeals in death penalty cases often take more than 10 years and the right to appeal is automatic.

Willacy County capital murder cases are tried in Brownsville because of security concerns at the courthouse in Raymondville and challenges of picking a jury in Willacy because of the small population.

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