Murder case moves to Brownsville, claims media coverage tainting jury pool

RAYMONDVILLE — A Mexican national charged with the capital murder of an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent requested his trial be moved out of Willacy County.

District Clerk Gilbert Lozano said he believed District Attorney Bernard Ammerman requested Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval’s trial be moved.

But court documents show Tijerina-Sandoval requested the change of venue, claiming media coverage tainted potential jurors in Willacy and Cameron counties.

Ammerman argued the court should deny Tijerina-Sandoval’s request.

But state District Judge Migdalia Lopez granted Tijerina-Sandoval’s request, ordering the trial be moved to the 197th District Court in Brownsville.

Tijerina-Sandoval and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo are charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder in the Aug. 3, 2014, shootings of Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr., 36, and his father Javier Vega Sr.

According to court records, Ammerman wrote Tijerina-Sandoval presented two affidavits stating “extensive media coverage” tainted the potential jury pool in Willacy County.

“However, the defendant’s affidavits fail to demonstrate that there exists a pervasive and prejudicial atmosphere against the defendant,” Ammerman wrote. “The defendant’s affidavits fail to provide any evidence that the residents of Willacy County have already formed an opinion as to (the) defendant’s guilt.”

Ammerman wrote Tijerina-Sandoval presented no affidavits stating media coverage tainted Cameron County’s jury pool,

Five Willacy County residents and five Cameron County residents presented affidavits showing “a fair and impartial jury can be formed” in Willacy and Cameron counties, Ammerman wrote.

Ammerman argued media coverage has not tainted potential jurors.

“The mere fact of media attention and publicity do not automatically establish prejudice or require a change of venue because jurors need not be in total ignorance of the facts and issues of a particular case,” Ammerman wrote. “A defendant must demonstrate actual, identifiable prejudice attributable to pre-trial publicity on the part of the community from which the jury is chosen.”

Ammerman also argued Tijerina-Sandoval’s affidavits fail to show a tainted jury pool.

“(The) defendant’s affidavits fail to demonstrate a level of pervasiveness, prejudice or inflammatory publicity which would create a climate in the community which (the) defendant could not receive a fair and impartial trial,” Ammerman wrote.

Lopez has not set a trial date.

Authorities accuse Tijerina-Sandoval and Hernandez-Vallejo of shooting Javier Vega Jr. and Javier Vega Sr. after trying to rob them as they fished with family members in the Santa Monica area off FM 1420 about 3.5 miles east of the north levee.

Javier Vega Sr. was shot in the lower back and released from a hospital about two days later.

Tijerina-Sandoval faces additional charges.

In August 2014, Tijerina-Sandoval’s arrest helped Cameron County authorities crack down on a string of armed robberies at remote fishing spots in the Rio Hondo area.

After his arrest, Tijerina-Sandoval was charged with seven counts of aggravated armed robbery and three counts of engaging in organized criminal activity, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said at the time.

Ammerman, who has cited Lopez’s order against discussing the case, did not respond to calls requesting comment.