Guide in deadly smuggling case gets 6 years

McALLEN — A Mexican national who acted as the driver and brush guide in a smuggling attempt that left one woman dead was sentenced to a nearly six-year prison term, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Juan Jesus Martinez-Rodriguez to 71 months in prison in connection with the smuggling of a group of undocumented persons, one of whom was a woman from El Salvador who died during her trek through the South Texas brush.

Martinez-Rodriguez was the driver and brush guide for a group of 10 migrants just north Falfurrias when U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped him and the migrants he was transporting just before midnight on Sept. 20, 2018.

Shortly before Martinez-Rodriguez was pulled over, U.S. Border Patrol aerial support authorities notified agents on the ground that a group of undocumented migrants had just boarded a vehicle near Jim Wells County Road 400, north of Falfurrias.

But before Border Patrol agents could approach Martinez-Rodriguez, he and nine undocumented migrants fled the area. This occurred before agents subsequently detained Martinez-Rodriguez and the migrants, the complaint against the man stated.

After Martinez-Rodriguez was arrested, he admitted to Border Patrol agents he was the brush guide and driver for the migrants, and was the person who transported the nine migrants around the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias.

Martinez-Rodriguez admitted there had been another migrant, a female that he said had been left behind in the brush around 4 p.m., after she was no longer able to walk due to exhaustion.

“Martinez-Rodriguez recounted the route he walked based on memory and GPS coordinates from his cellular phone,” the complaint stated.

The day after Martinez-Rodriguez’s arrest, Border Patrol located the deceased female south of Falfurrias, near a Brooks County rest area, consistent with the information provided by the man.

The woman was later identified as Alba Cecibel Argueta Jurado, 26, of El Salvador.

Three of the nine migrants — a Mexican national, an El Salvadorian national, and a Honduran national who were arrested and charged for immigration violations — each provided statements to agents that a 10th member of the group, a female, was left behind on orders from Martinez-Rodriguez after she could no longer walk due to exhaustion, according to complaint.

Martinez-Rodriguez, who will not face the death penalty after government prosecutors elected not to seek such punishment, was facing up to life in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, the government dismissed the remaining three counts of the same offense as part of the plea agreement agreed to in May, according to court notes.