EDINBURG — A Mexico City man who says he was coerced into participating in the La Plaza Mall robbery last summer was sentenced Thursday morning to 14 years in prison.
Raul Alberto Rangel, 44, is one of seven defendants in the case.
During sentencing, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office recommended a sentence for the man, who is in the country illegally, of 20 years in prison because he is one of the defendants who smashed a glass case in the Deutsch & Deutsch jewelry store that mall-goers mistook for gunshots after the men stormed the establishment to commit the robbery.
Rangel took 15 Rolex watches in the heist.
The robbery sent shivers through the Rio Grande Valley as reports of armed gunmen at the mall spread throughout the border community. A massive law enforcement response ensued, with agencies from all over Hidalgo County responding.
Like at least two other defendants in the case, Rangel claimed he committed the act against his will.
“It’s not something I wanted to do, but I was forced to because I was scared for my family,” Rangel said. “That’s why I did what I did. I regret it.”
The man’s defense attorney, Adolfo Alvarez Jr., said during the hearing that his client was forced to participate in the robbery by the people who smuggled him into the country.
Rangel has no other criminal history and has been in a stable union that resulted in eight children.
Nonetheless, state District Judge Israel Ramon handed down the decade-plus sentence, citing the panic caused in the community.
On Sept. 11, the state provided all of the defendants’ notice of new evidence obtained from “individuals” in custody that could possibly help the defendants’ claims of “duress.”
However, during the hearing Thursday morning, Rangel’s attorney, Alvarez, said that new evidence would not be a defense for his client during guilt or innocence.
The notice provided to the defendants’ states that it comes from the Office of Inspector General – Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez has said his office believes the information pertains to one individual in the case.
Two defendants in the case, however, have filed motions regarding the new evidence.
On Wednesday, 29-year-old Jorge Mejia’s attorney, Juan Ramon Alvarez, filed a motion for a new trial.
“The prosecution was provided with some evidence that may be exculpatory and was provided to the defense after the defendant had been sentenced by this court,” the motion states. “The evidence disclosed may be exculpatory or mitigating in the disposition of the case prior to sentencing.”
On Sept. 13, 27-year-old Miguel Quintanilla Cardenas’ attorney, Sergio J. Sanchez, filed a motion asking state District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. to reconsider his client’s 14-year sentence.
Cardenas and Rangel were friends who were both from the same neighborhood in Mexico City.
“Counsel did not have this information at any point during the exchange of discovery, on the date of the open plea to the Court, nor on the date of sentencing,” that motion states. “The matter of duress is an issue that the Court should factor into its sentencing calculations.”
The defendant who has received the stiffest sentence in the case, 25-year-old Brayan Oliver Melchor, also claimed he was coerced.
“I did it because I was threatened,” Melchor said at his sentencing hearing.
Ramon, the judge, told Melchor he was receiving the sentence because he had committed a nearly identical act in California along with his co-defendant, 25-year-old Abner Zepeda Posos, in addition to the panic the crime caused in the community.
Posos is scheduled for sentencing Monday morning.