Three suspects arraigned in beheading case

BROWNSVILLE —Three of the five men accused of the murder and decapitation of Honduran native Jose Francisco “Franklin” Rodriguez Palacios Paz were arraigned in the 107th state District Court on Wednesday afternoon in Brownsville.

Joel Luna Rodriguez, Eduardo Luna Rodriguez, and Aaron Rodriguez Medellin pleaded not guilty to charges of capital murder, murder, and two counts of engaging in criminal activity before state District Judge Benjamin Euresti Jr.

“We were here present for arraignment so that way the accusation is presented to the client. (Joel Luna) is confident to plead to the indictment not guilty,” said Carlos A. Garcia, Luna’s lawyer.

Nestor Manuel Leal Cedillo and Fernando Luna Rodriguez waived their arraignment. The suspects remain jailed under a $500,000 cash surety bond.

Authorities found Paz’s headless body last March in the Laguna Madre after local fishermen reported it.

Palacios Paz, of Edinburg, had been reported missing four days before his body was found. Edinburg police had said Palacio Paz’s common-law wife told investigators they had been arguing before he left and never returned. She also told police that Palacios Paz was from Honduras and had been living in the country without legal status.

According to law enforcement officials, Palacios Paz was killed in Edinburg. Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio previously said Palacios had been arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents and Edinburg police officers in prior cases and his body was identified through fingerprints. Palacios’ criminal history included drug related arrests, the sheriff said.

Suspect Joel Luna is a former U.S. Border Patrol Agent accused of drug cartel ties. After his arrest last year, the county sheriff’s department found more than a kilo of cocaine, $90,000 in cash, firearms and Luna’s Border Patrol badge in a safe at the home of his mother-in-law, according to investigators.

Luna was also found to have two birth certificates. One is from Hidalgo County, Texas, and the other is from Reynosa, Mexico, according to the Texas Tribune.