Murder victim’s family: Anything less than death penalty is injustice

The state announced Thursday that it will not seek the death penalty against a trio accused in the kidnapping and murder of a 23-year-old man in late July.

In a statement, the family of Fernando Garza Jr. expressed anger at the decision.

“Anything less than the death penalty is injustice in our eyes,” they said in a statement.

Mission resident Edna Rivera, 28, Peñitas resident Julio Cesar De Leon, 26, and Mission resident Alfredo Huerta, 20, are charged with capital murder over accusations they orchestrated the kidnapping of Fernando Garza Jr. on July 24 that ended with the man being shot in the face in an orchard in Mission.

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office provided the notice to the suspects, who have entered not guilty pleas to the charges, on Dec. 9. In a previous hearing in late November, state District Judges Israel Ramon Jr. and Letty Lopez ordered the state to come to a decision.

De Leon and Rivera, whose cases are being heard in Ramon’s court, had pre-trial hearings scheduled Thursday. Lopez is overseeing Huerta’s case. He is next scheduled to appear on Jan. 9.

The family said they are speechless that the death penalty is no longer an option.

“We’re sure that Fernando pleaded for his life and without remorse or fear they shot him and left his body in the middle of some orchards for days to rot in mid-summer,” they said in the statement. “We mourn his absence and the cruel way his life was taken.”

In Garza’s family’s eyes, they believe De Leon, Rivera and Huerta should be used as an example.

“These three cowards stole Fernando’s life opportunities so why should they get a second chance? As a community we need to raise our voice and fight for justice as one because today it happened to our family and if the justice system continues to grant them opportunities, it can happen to anybody tomorrow,” the family said.

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office arrested De Leon and Rivera on July 27, the same day deputies found Garza’s body in an orchard between Mile 11 and Mile 12 on Iowa Road. Authorities arrested Huerta a few days later.

Probable cause affidavits state that Rivera bound Garza and a man named Luis Domingo Dominguez’s wrists together at her house at 8606 Marivel Ortiz St.

“Edna knew what was going to happen and is the one who bound their wrists together with tape,” the affidavits state. “(De Leon) and (Huerta) took them to an orchard where (De Leon) shot and killed Fernando.”

Dominguez told investigators that De Leon and Huerta took him to a separate location where the vehicle used was left behind.

Garza’s father, Fernando Garza Sr., told investigators that while looking for his son, who was only considered missing at the time, he came across his son’s friends, Huerta and Dominguez.

“(Huerta) told him that he, (Dominguez) and Fernando had been kidnapped,” the affidavit stated. “(Huerta) stated that (De Leon) had shot and killed Fernando in an orchard and that he and (Dominguez) managed to escape.”

Probable cause affidavits also reveal how investigators discovered marijuana, methamphetamine and Xanax inside two black duffle bags inside Rivera’s home.

Rivera remains jailed on $190,000 bonds while both Huerta and De Leon are being held without bond on the capital murder charge.

mreagan@themonitor.com