NEW ORLEANS (CN) – An attorney for a Mexican national who helped track down a cartel lawyer turned informant, leading to his assassination at a shopping center in an affluent Dallas suburb, told a Fifth Circuit panel Monday that jurors made a mistake when they convicted his client of conspiracy to commit murder.
Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, 61, also known as Chuy and Juan Ramos, was convicted in 2016 by a federal jury in Texas following two days of deliberations on single charges of interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit murder for the death of Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa.
Chapa was shot dead by assassins on the evening of May 22, 2013, as he sat with his wife in their Range Rover at Southlake Town Square, outside of Dallas.
“Where do you think the jury went wrong?” U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith asked Ledezma-Cepeda’s lawyer during Monday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit.
Wes Ball with Ball & Hase in Arlington, Texas, replied that the trial included too many “extraneous” and “gruesome” details unrelated to the charges facing his client.
Of the 15 days of trial in the Northern District of Texas, he said, nine were spent detailing extraneous murders that were unrelated to Chapa’s.
“You hear something that sounds like it came straight out of a movie,” Ball told the Fifth Circuit panel Monday regarding the details of Chapa’s fatal shooting. “And then the case starts, and day one the government starts talking about these other murders.”
Nine days of evidence about murders unrelated to Chapa’s made the jury unable to focus, Ball argued.
“It’s because of all of this extraneous stuff that came in,” he said, “[That] made it impossible for the jury to separate out all of the evidence.”
But Gail Hayworth from the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas told the Fifth Circuit judges Monday that evidence of Ledezma-Cepeda’s guilt was “overwhelming” during trial.
Trial testimony indicated that two assassins were sent from Mexico by Beltran Leyva cartel boss Rodolfo Villarreal “El Gato” Hernandez.
The assassins pulled up behind Chapa’s Range Rover at Southlake Town Square on that May 2013 evening in a Toyota Sequoia. One of the assassins then got out of the Sequoia, walked up to the Range Rover where Chapa and his wife sat, and fired several shots from a 9mm pistol through the window, killing Chapa. Chapa’s wife was unharmed.
The killers have never been caught.
U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means sentenced Ledezma-Cepeda in December 2016 to two concurrent life sentences in prison.
Ledezma-Cepeda’s attorney argued Monday that his case “in the very least should be reviewed and he should be resentenced.”
Ball maintained that Ledezma-Cepeda was innocent and told the Fifth Circuit panel Monday that his “post-murder conduct was just as consistent with his innocent demeanor.”
Ledezma-Cepeda testified during his federal trial in Texas that El Gato forced him to stalk Chapa with GPS and video-recording devices and public-records searches.
He said his cousin was misled into helping him by El Gato, who said Chapa was a wanted criminal in Mexico.
Ball spoke many times of his client’s “duress” before the Fifth Circuit judges. He said Ledezma-Cepeda lived in fear for himself and his family in Mexico.
His cousin, Jose Luis Cepeda-Cortez, also received two concurrent life sentences in 2016 on the same counts, as well as an additional 20 years for a count of tampering with documents or proceedings.
Ledezma-Cepeda’s son, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Campano, was also sentenced in 2016 for one count of interstate stalking.
Neither Cepeda-Cortez nor Ledezma-Compano’s son’s case came before the appeals panel Monday.
U.S. Circuit Judges Jacques L. Wiener Jr. and Don R. Willett joined Judge Smith on the panel. The judges did not indicate how or when they will rule.