Texas Jury Convicts in Cartel Killing Case

     FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — A federal jury convicted two cousins Friday of stalking a U.S. informant and alleged Gulf Cartel attorney before he was murdered while shopping in an affluent Dallas suburb.
     Jurors handed down the verdict against private investigator Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda, 59, of Mexico, and Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes, 60, of Edinburg, after two days of deliberations.
     Both men face up to life in prison at their sentencing in September for interstate stalking and conspiracy for murder-for-hire in the death of Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa.
     Guerrero was shot dead in May 2013 as he sat in his car at Southlake Town Center. The shooter and getaway driver remain at large. Neither defendant is accused of being the shooter, but of traveling from Mexico to Southlake “with the intent to kill” Guerrero.
     Ledezma has testified that Beltran Leyva Cartel boss Rodolfo Villarreal “El Gato” Hernandez forced him to stalk Guerrero, to avenge the death of his father. El Gato spent more than $1 million stalking Guerrero with GPS and video-recording devices and public-records searches, according to trial testimony.
     Ledezma also testified that he misled his cousin into helping him by saying Guerrero was a wanted criminal in Mexico.
     Ledezma’s attorney, Wes Ball with Ball & Hase in Arlington, pounded away at his client’s duress defense during closing arguments Thursday. He reminded jurors of expert witness testimony that Ledezma lived in fear for himself and his family in Mexico and had no choice but to carry out El Gato’s orders.
     He used Guerrero’s “embarrassing” death as a federal informant to illustrate the danger Ledezma will continue to face as a free man or as a federal prisoner.
     “Where was all the protection for him?” Ball asked. “If El Gato was willing to kill a U.S. informant, what chance does a private investigator who handles cheating spouse cases have?”
     Comparing the Beltran Leyva Cartel to the Islamic State terrorist outfit, Ball said both groups publicize their brutality to spread fear and increase their power.
     Ball reminded jurors that Ledezma’s family in Mexico did not travel to Texas to testify in his defense after receiving a threat from an unknown person last week. He criticized federal prosecutors for going after the “expendable” defendants instead of going after the actual shooter or El Gato.
     Cepeda’s attorney, Robert Rogers of Dallas, reiterated that Cepeda was simply interested in learning his cousin’s trade. He is accused of helping Ledezma as an interpreter, getting him rental cars and performing record searches.
     Rogers rebutted testimony by Ledezma’s son, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Campano, 32, who said Cepeda knew what was going on. Rogers said the son received a “sweetheart deal” by entering a plea bargain with prosecutors and testifying against the defendants.
     Assistant U.S. District Attorney Joshua Burgess called Ball’s closing argument “absolute hogwash,” as it could theoretically allow Ledezma to “keep killing under perpetual duress” without punishment.
     Calling Ledezma “a terminator,” Burgess dismissed his duress defense, citing testimony that he had tracked several other people before, who then disappeared.
     Burgess also derided Cepeda’s defense, saying he did not pull out of the plot when he learned who Guerrero was, but demanded more money. He asked why Cepeda used fake names when he was helping his cousin.

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