Jury selection is expected to begin today in the trial of a 19-year-old man accused of participating in a 2009 cartel-related slaying in East El Paso, believed to be one of the first in the city since the drug war began in Juarez in 2008.
Juan Gerardo Gracia Jr. is charged with capital murder in the May 2009 shooting death of Jose Daniel Gonzalez-Galeana, 37. Gonzalez-Galeana was shot outside of his home on Pony Trail Place. Gracia and three others, all with ties to the Juarez drug cartel, are accused of carrying out a hit ordered by a mid-level Juarez cartel lieutenant, Jesus Aguayo Salas.
Gracia, Aguayo Salas, and three others -- Ruben Rodriguez-Dorado, former Army Pfc. Michael Jackson Apodaca and Christopher
Duran -- were all indicted on capital murder charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Apodaca and Rodriguez-Dorado, whose trial dates are still pending. Aguayo Salas has not been arrested and is believed to be hiding in Mexico.
Duran pleaded guilty last month to a murder charge and will be sentenced to 25 years in prison if he testifies truthfully against Gracia, Rodriguez-Dorado and Apodaca.
The judge presiding over the case, 210th District Judge Gonzalo Garcia, has issued a gag order preventing attorneys, witnesses and others associated with the case from speaking to the media about it.
At the time of Gonzalez-Galeana's death and the subsequent arrests of the four suspects, police said Duran acted
as the getaway driver for Apodaca, Rodriguez-Dorado and Gracia. Apodaca is the accused shooter, while Rodriguez-Dorado and Gracia allegedly had been watching Gonzalez-Galeana.
According to police, Rodriguez-Dorado was allegedly tasked with killing Gonzalez-Galeana by Aguayo Salas because Juarez cartel members believed Gonzalez-Galeana either was cooperating with the U.S. government or had joined a rival criminal organization.
Late last year, an El Paso police detective testified during a pre-trial hearing that Rodriguez-Dorado and Gonzalez-Galeana both worked as informants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and even had the same "handler."
Police said Gonzalez-Galeana owned a trucking business and permanently moved to El Paso on a visa from ICE, but he allegedly didn't give up his role as a mid-level cartel boss coordinating drug shipments.
If Gracia is convicted of capital murder, he faces an automatic lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
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