Man pleads not guilty to capital murder in fatal Edinburg hotel stabbing

Mata Jr.

A 26-year-old man entered a not guilty plea Wednesday to a charge of capital murder over allegations that he and another man lured a South Carolina man to an Edinburg hotel over the purported sale of a pound of cocaine to allegedly steal $11,000 from him.

Cornelio Mata Jr. appeared for arraignment via video-conferencing where he entered the plea.

Edinburg police accuse Mata of causing 29-year-old Yadiel Miguel Morales’ death at the Texas Inn on June 3. Morales died after being stabbed with his own knife during a struggle with Mata.

Mata is charged along with 34-year-old Stephen Santos in the case.

Santos has waived his arraignment in the case. He is currently in federal custody awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 24, for violating his supervised release by being arrested for capital murder. He had been convicted in federal court for a 2011 carjacking and for smuggling nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana in 2006.

Mata had also been in federal custody, but was transferred to county jail for his arraignment.

He had also violated his supervised release for being arrested for capital murder after being convicted of illegally exporting ammunition after U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested him in a vehicle at the Hidalgo port of entry where CBP officers discovered nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition, 37 7.62-caliber magazines and a Taurus 9mm handgun.

According to the complaint, Mata and three other men planned to sell the ammo to a man in Reynosa and split the proceeds.

And he’ll likely be back in federal custody soon.

His defense attorney, O. Rene Flores, disclosed to the court during Mata’s arraignment that his client has pending federal charges, which the attorney did not elaborate on.

Edinburg homicide investigators say in a probable cause affidavit that Morales and a man named Jeffrey Manuel Vargas went to the Texas Inn for the June 3 drug deal with Santos and Mata.

Vargas told investigators that he got into a struggle with Santos at the hotel and shot his gun twice. Edinburg police had charged Vargas with attempted murder, but online court records don’t indicate an indictment against Vargas.

Mata told police he got into a fight with Morales, who had a knife, according to the probable cause affidavit.

“Cornelio states that as he is fighting with Yadiel, someone shoots a weapon inside of the room,” the affidavit states. “Cornelio states that after the altercation, he sees Yadiel bleeding, and grabs a bag containing money as he walks out of the room.”

After the shooting and stabbing, all of the men except Morales, who was dying, fled.

Santos was arrested by Edinburg police after a short chase when he wrecked the vehicle he was driving, according to police, who say he had a gunshot wound to his leg.

Mata was arrested in Pharr without incident and did not have any injuries, police said at a press conference.

Police found Vargas at a freestanding medical clinic in Alamo where he sought treatment for gunshot wounds to his legs, police said previously.

Edinburg police never found any cocaine at the hotel.

Capital murder carries a punishment of life in prison or death. The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office has not announced whether it will seek the death penalty in the case if the men are convicted.