Trial ahead in murder of Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega

HARLINGEN — Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega was fishing for gar with his family at their favorite spot near Santa Monica.

But the family outing turned deadly when two would-be robbers approached him, his wife, children and parents, according to police.

Vega, a La Feria native, was drawing his gun when he was shot in the chest.

That was almost four years ago — Aug. 3, 2014.

Now, the first of two men accused of gunning him down is set to go on trial beginning tomorrow. Charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder, Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval faces the death penalty if convicted.

The jury has already been selected. If the defense has its way, jurors will be sequestered.

That means they would stay together throughout the trial, even after hours.

At the end of each day, they would be taken to a bus, which would take them to a hotel for the night.

State District Judge Migdalia Lopez hasn’t yet ruled on that defense motion.

But she has granted a defense motion requiring all law enforcement personnel to wear civilian clothing when testifying and barring them from wearing sidearms in the courtroom.

Tijerina, 34, of La Villa, will be allowed to wear civilian clothing for court appearances and won’t be shackled or otherwise restrained.

The defense wanted to bar prosecutors from wearing law enforcement lapel pins in court. But Lopez denied that motion.

Another motion still pending is a request to redact a portion of Tijerina’s video statement to law enforcement and to restrict law enforcement from testifying on that portion of the statement.

Law enforcement authorities, including the Border Patrol, have accused Tijerina and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo, 44, of murdering Vega during a robbery and wounding his father, Javier Vega Sr., at a fishing spot near Santa Monica, in Willacy County.

According to comments made by Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence after the shooting, Tijerina and Hernandez 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, the Border Patrol determined Vega died in the line of duty. The federal law enforcement agency made the call based on an 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, Vega Jr. attempted to draw his weapon when the men approached the family and was shot in the chest.

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