BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - A Mexican national whose attempt to smuggle a woman into the United States failed when a boat propeller fatally struck her in a ship channel faces life in prison after a federal jury found him responsible for her death.
A federal jury convicted Galdino Jose Ruiz-Hernandez, a 37-year-old undocumented immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, of alien smuggling resulting in death and illegal re-entry into the United States on Wednesday after a two-day trial.
During a routine Coast Guard patrol that began late in the evening of April 23, 2015, a crew member heard a thump. The boat then hit a pink inner tube in the Brownsville Ship Channel while returning to its station on South Padre Island, according to a July 2015 Coast Guard report of its investigation into the death of Patricia Guadalupe Cervantes Garcia, 24, whose body was found later that morning.
Ruiz-Hernandez approached a security guard in the Brownsville Shrimp Basin, part of the port where shrimp boats dock, that morning and told the guard that a woman's body had washed up on shore, according to the Coast Guard report finding its officers weren't to blame for Cervantes' death.
Ruiz-Hernandez didn't help the guard search for the body, but anonymously called 911 later that morning to report the body was still on the shoreline.
"He then presented himself to authorities on the scene of the body recovery," the report states.
The Cameron County coroner did an autopsy in front of Coast Guard investigators on April 27, 2015 and, comparing the body's wounds to the propeller, he determined Cervantes "died nearly instantly" from blunt force trauma and blood loss, according to the report.
"The coroner determined the official cause of death as boat propeller trauma with drowning," the Coast Guard report states.
Ruiz-Hernandez admitted to Cameron County sheriff's deputies that he had tried to smuggle Cervantes into the United States.
The deputies questioned him then released him. Federal agents arrested him a few days later in the Brownsville Shrimp Basin, where he said he'd worked for a few years. Given his knowledge of the area, he had been recruited by others to be a human smuggler, or “coyote,” according to the Coast Guard report.
The report details Cervantes' journey to Matamoros, the Mexican town across the Rio Grande from Brownsville. She traveled 600 miles in a bus from Veracruz, a state near the Yucatan peninsula, to Matamoros, where she met Ruiz-Hernandez.
They bought inner tubes from a store in Matamoros before they were taken to a ranch on the border and across the Rio Grande in a wooden boat. Then they hiked three miles through heavy brush to the south side of the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Given her journey, the Coast Guard report implies Cervantes may have been severely fatigued when the boat hit her around 11 p.m. on April 23, 2015.
A federal grand jury charged Ruiz-Hernandez with illegal re-entry in May 2015 after finding out he had been deported before, and another federal grand jury indicted him five months later for conspiracy to smuggle aliens resulting in a death and alien smuggling resulting in a death.
Prosecutors showed evidence at his trial that Gabriel Sanchez-Aburto, 46, had recruited him to smuggle Cervantes. Sanchez-Aburto pleaded guilty to two alien-smuggling charges and will be sentenced Feb. 6.
Ruiz-Hernandez faces up to life in prison at his April 10 sentencing.Follow @cam_langford
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.