A federal trial is underway in Fort Worth related to the 2013 killing of a former cartel lawyer who was gunned down in Southlake.
It’s not a trial of the actual gunman. Instead, two other men are on trial, both accused of stalking the lawyer and being in a murder-for-hire conspiracy. On Tuesday, lawyers for the government and the defense gave opening statements laying out different stories of what led up to the murder.
Who was the lawyer the men allegedly helped assassinate?
His name is Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa. He was a Mexican lawyer who reportedly represented the former head of the Gulf drug cartel, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, who’s now in federal prison.
Chapa was shot to death as he entered his SUV at Southlake Town Square in May 2013. According to reports, white Toyota Sequoia pulled up behind him and a gunman got out, walked up to the car and fired several times through the window at Chapa. Chapa’s wife, unharmed, was nearby.
Who are the two men on trial?
The two men are Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda, a Mexican citizen, and his cousin Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes. Both are charged with interstate stalking and with conspiracy to commit a murder for hire. Cepeda Cortes is also charged with trying to erase documents and computer records to destroy evidence of his involvement.
Federal prosecutors say they were involved in the killing. Neither of them pulled the trigger. The killers haven’t been publicly identified—except by nicknames – and they haven’t been charged.
What does the government say happened?
In opening statements, federal prosecutor Joshua Burgess told the court that the two men on trial tracked down Chapa, the attorney. Chapa had been serving as an informant for federal law enforcement.
Burgess said the two men were working on behalf of a Mexican cartel boss named Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, who goes by the name El Gato, because El Gato blamed Chapa for the death of his father.
Burgess says the two men on trial used public records, GPS trackers and other surveillance equipment to track him down and to stalk him his family members for several months. Then, the prosecutor says, the two men led the cartel assassin to Southlake Town Square. Burgess said they acted like hunting guides for the gunman.
The government will also rely on testimony from the son of Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda, who pleaded guilty to interstate stalking. He’s going to testify that his father and his father’s cousin were both working to help El Gato track down Chapa, the lawyer, in order to kill him.
What do the defense lawyers say happened?
Lawyers for Ledezma Cepeda and Cepeda Cortes – they’re being represented separately -- say their clients are not guilty. But they tell different stories about what, exactly, happened and why.
Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda was a successful private investigator in Monterrey, Mexico, his lawyer said in his opening statement. Wes Ball, Ledezma Cepeda’s attorney, says El Gato forced Ledezma Cepeda to track down Chapa. Ball said Ledezma Cepeda’s life was at risk, and that El Gato insisted he wear a GPS trackers so El Gato knew he was doing the job. Basically, he says, it was under duress.
Cepeda Cortes’s lawyer, on the other hand, says that his client was an unwitting accomplice. He said Cepeda Cortes knew his cousin as an established private investigator who mostly tracked down the adulterous spouses. The lawyer, Robert Rogers, says his client started out asking him to do minor jobs for his private investigator work – a records search here, look at court records there—and that he had no idea his cousin was involved in an assassination plot until after Chapa was killed.