Defense wants psychological evaluation in case of Border Patrol agent’s shooting

BROWNSVILLE — Attorneys for a Mexican national accused of killing an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent are asking for psychological evaluation of their client.

In a hearing yesterday, the attorneys requested 43-year-old Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo be tested for “intellectual disability.”

He is accused of killing Agent Javier Vega Jr., on Aug. 3, 2014.

He appeared before state District Judge Migdalia Lopez in Brownsville, where several criminal motions were addressed. Vega was shot and killed during an apparent robbery attempt while he and his family were out fishing near Santa Monica. His father, Javier Vega Sr., was shot in the back.

In December 2015, Lopez granted Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman’s request to move the capital murder trial to Cameron County.

Yesterday, both parties expressed concern over the implications that may come with a new district attorney, Annette Hinojosa, having been elected in Willacy County. Considering the psychological evaluation and concerns brought up by the defense about a new DA, the prosecution expressed disapproval for the request because it would stall the trial even further, suggesting someone is “dragging their feet.”

“Let’s get this clear,” state prosecutor Chuck Mattingly said. “I’m here right now today. I’ll work this case; I’ll try this case whenever they want to try it. I’m just letting the court know that there is going to be a power change … in Willacy County.”

“Secondly, judge, this case is over a year-and-a-half old. And if they don’t know whether their client is intellectually disabled, or incompetent or insane, by this time or wasn’t insane at the time of the incident, then I would suggest somebody is dragging their feet. Maybe not Mr. (Ed) Stapleton, maybe not Mr. (Abner) Burnett. Maybe the consulate is, maybe their experts are. A year-and-a-half or more is plenty of time to make the decision whether or not he is competent or intellectually disabled,” Mattingly added.

Lopez did not issue a ruling.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Hernandez-Vallejo, as one of the charges against him is capital murder by terror threat. He also is charged with attempted capital murder for the shooting of Vega Sr., as well as aggravated robbery.

Also charged in Vega’s shooting death is Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval.

The next status hearing for Hernandez-Vallejo has been set for Jan. 25, 2017, which is one day after Tijerina-Sandoval is scheduled for a status hearing.