Death Row inmate found at Ellis Unit

Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval

By Joseph Brown, The Huntsville Item

A Cameron County man sentenced to death was discovered incarcerated at the O.B. Ellis Unit in Huntsville earlier this week, prison officials have confirmed.

Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval received a capital murder sentence for the Aug. 3, 2014 murder of Javier Vega Jr., an off-duty Border Patrol agent.

According to TDCJ communications director Jeremy Desel, the agency received Tijerina-Sandoval from Cameron County on October 19, 2019. According to TDCJ officials, the paperwork from Cameron County only mentioned three counts of aggravated robbery with a 30 year sentence. The capital murder charge was not included.

On December 11, 2019 Tijerina-Sandoval was transferred to the O.B. Ellis Unit in Huntsville and placed in the general population. According to officials, earlier this week a question was raised to the Office of Inspector General about the offender’s status. It was determined that the offender had been convicted of capital murder and received a death sentence.

Tijerina-Sandoval was immediately reprocessed and transferred to death row at the Polunsky Unit.

“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice receives thousands of offenders a year from counties all over Texas,” Desel said in a release. “We depend on the accuracy of the paperwork coming from the county of conviction to properly process and assign offenders to units in our system.”

On Wednesday, Tijerina-Sandoval was transferred to Texas Death Row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston.

According to a report from The Brownsville Herald, Tijerina-Sandoval and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo ambushed Vega Jr. and his family while they were fishing in Willacy County near Santa Monica on Aug. 3, 2014. The men opened fire on the family during an attempt to steal their vehicle.

The Vega family returned fire, but Javier Vega Jr. was killed and his father, Javier Vega Sr., was also shot.

Hernandez-Vallejo was sentenced to 50 years in prison after entering a guilty plea for the murder and attempted capital murder on Jan. 15 in front of former 197th state District Judge Migdalia Lopez. As part of Hernandez-Vallejo’s agreement with the government, he promised not to appeal and to testify against Tijerina-Sandoval, who has appealed, during that process.

Evidence and testimony showed both men were in the country illegally when they murdered Javier Vega Jr. and that a $3,500 debt over a lost vehicle engine motivated the men to steal a vehicle, forever changing the lives of the Vega family.

Prison officials said that no issues were reported with Tijerina-Sandoval at the Ellis Unit.