Death penalty trials on way

BROWNSVILLE — Two men accused in the 2014 death of an off-duty Border Patrol agent in Willacy County made brief appearances in court yesterday as defense attorneys and prosecutors prepared for death penalty trials against the suspects.

Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval of La Villa and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo of Weslaco are charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder over accusations of shooting and killing Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr. of Kingsville, and shooting and injuring Javier Vega Sr. of La Feria, the agent’s father, in August 2014.

The Vegas were fishing for gar near Santa Monica along with the agent’s wife, his mother, two children and another child at what Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence described in 2014 as “their favorite spot.”

The alleged motive was robbery, authorities have said.

Tijerina-Sandoval, who was shackled but dressed in street clothes, appeared in front of 197th state District Judge Migdalia Lopez yesterday morning.

Tijerina-Sandoval’s attorneys, Nat C. Perez and Alfredo Padilla, along with Willacy County prosecutors, announced they were ready for trial. Lopez scheduled jury selection in the case for Feb. 13.

Later that day, Hernandez-Vallejo also appeared in the 197th state District Court for a pretrial hearing, which was reset for this morning.

The men are being tried separately.

According to earlier comments made by Spence in 2014, the suspects allegedly confessed to committing other robberies, but investigators at the time hadn’t determined whether they were behind a series of robberies targeting Cameron County fishing spots.

After Tijerina-Sandoval and Hernandez-Vallejo were arrested, Javier Vega Jr.’s sister-in-law, Natalie Vega, told the Valley Morning Star the agent was shot at “point-blank” range. She told the newspaper that Javier Vega Sr. returned gunfire as the suspects fled after shooting the agent, explaining that Javier Vega Sr. was “shot basically from hip to hip.”

In 2016, Lopez ordered the case moved from Willacy to Cameron County because of extensive media coverage.

Javier Vega Jr. is survived by three sons.

About the Case

Fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr., August 2014

Suspects are Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval of La Villa and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo of Weslaco

Charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty