First suspect accused of murdering Border Patrol agent scheduled for trial

BROWNSVILLE — After more than three years of court hearings, the first of two men charged with capital murder for the 2014 shooting death of an off-duty Border Patrol agent will stand trial.

Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval, of La Villa, and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo, of Weslaco, are charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder for the August 2014 shooting of Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega Jr. and the man’s father, Javier Vega Sr., who survived.

Tijerina-Sandoval will stand trial after a jury is selected today. If for some reason Tijerina-Sandoval’s case does not go to trial today, Hernandez-Vallejo will instead go to trial, court records show. The men are being tried separately.

The Willacy County District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty for both men.

The men are accused of gunning down Javier Vega Jr. on Aug. 3, 2014, while he was fishing for gar with his wife, children and parents near Santa Monica at what Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence then described as their “favorite spot.”

Law enforcement authorities, including Border Patrol, have accused the men of murdering Javier Vega Jr. during a robbery.

According to comments made by Spence after the shooting, Tijerina-Sandoval and Hernandez-Vallejo allegedly confessed to committing other robberies, but investigators at the time hadn’t determined whether they were involved in a series of robberies targeting popular fishing spots.

In September 2016, Border Patrol determined that Javier Vega Jr. died in the line of duty. The federal law enforcement agency made the call based on Spence’s investigation that indicated Javier Vega Jr. instinctively reacted and placed himself in harms way to stop a criminal act and protect the lives of others.

According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection press release announcing the decision, Javier Vega Jr. attempted to draw his weapon when the men approached the family and was shot in the chest.

Javier Vega Jr.’s sister-in-law, Natalie Vega, told the Valley Morning Star after the shooting that Javier Vega Jr. was shot at “pointblank range.” She also told the newspaper that Javier Vega Sr. returned fire as the suspects fled after shooting the agent, explaining that Javier Vega Sr. was “shot basically from hip to hip.”

In 2016, 197th state District Court Judge Migdalia Lopez, who also hears criminal cases from Willacy County, moved the cases against the men to Cameron County because of extensive media coverage.