Two illegal aliens charged in the slaying of a Border Patrol officer won’t have to worry about deportation back to Mexico if convicted by a Texas jury. They’ll face the death penalty.
Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo are on trial in Brownsville, Texas, 3 ½ years after allegedly gunning down Javier Vega Jr. The pair is also charged with shooting and wounding Vega’s father.
State prosecutors say Tijerina-Sandoval, 32, and Hernandez-Vallejo, 43, tried to rob the Vegas, who were fishing in a remote area in the Rio Grande Valley. Vega, an officer with the Border Patrol for six years, was shot and killed when he drew his gun.
Border Patrol agents arrested the two men the next day. Authorities said the pair belonged to “a criminal organization” in Mexico. It is not known how long they had been in the U.S.
A pool of 400 prospective jurors will be interviewed for consideration. Cameron County District Clerk Eric Garza said more jurors are summoned in death-penalty cases to give the defense and prosecution the widest options in selection.
Texas leads the nation with 518 executions since 1976, 37 percent of the U.S. total.
Tijerina-Sandoval and Hernandez-Vallejo are Mexican nationals, and Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, has denounced U.S. executions of its citizens as human-rights violations.
Texas authorities say they don’t discriminate: Murder is murder, and justice requires that convicted killers be subject to the state’s capital punishment law.
Last November, Texas executed Ruben Cardenas, a Mexican national convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing his 16-year-old cousin.
Currently, 54 Mexican citizens have pending death sentences in the United States.
Vega’s family lobbied to have his death classified as occurring in the line of duty. In 2016, the Border Patrol consented. Late last year, the South Texas immigration checkpoint in Sarita, where Vega was stationed, was renamed in his honor.