Border Patrol Agent Indicted in Cartel Murder

The capital murder indictment of a U.S. Border Patrol agent with drug cartel ties should signal that local authorities will fight back against violence spilling over from Mexico, the Cameron County district attorney said Wednesday. 

Josh Denmark

A U.S. Border Patrol agent with alleged ties to the violent Gulf Cartel was indicted on capital murder and other charges for his role in the beheading death last year of a Honduran national, officials in South Texas said late Wednesday. 

The indictments of Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna and four accomplices, announced in a news release from the office of the Cameron County district attorney, come after a lengthy investigation conducted by several state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.

In previous statements and news reports, authorities said the case began last March when fishermen discovered a headless body floating in the Gulf waters near South Padre Island. Investigators said they later found more than a kilo of cocaine, $90,000 in cash, an antique pistol and Luna’s Border Patrol badge in a safe at the home of his mother-in-law.

They said the murder was associated with the Gulf Cartel, a powerful drug trafficking mafia that controls much of the Mexican territory below deep South Texas.

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Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio told the Texas Tribune in November, after the arrests were made, that the case demonstrates that no one is above the law.

“Is it a black eye for law enforcement? Of course it is. No doubt about it,” he said. “But on the other hand, when police are wrong, we will bring them to justice when they violate the laws, whether it’s state or federal.”

In his announcement Wednesday, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said the indictments should send the signal that authorities will fight hard against any violence spreading across the border into South Texas.

“These indictments, as well as law enforcement efforts, are essential in pushing back against spillover violence and show we will not stand for the encroachment of the cartels in our community,” he said.

In addition to Luna, authorities charged Fernando Luna Rodriguez, Eduardo Luna Rodriguez, Aaron Rodriguez Medellin and Nestor Manuel Leal. Authorities said previously some of the suspects worked with the victim, Jose Francisco Palacios-Paz, in a local tire shop.

According to the statement, the charges include capital murder for retaliation, murder and two counts of organized criminal activity. 

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Texas Tribune reporter Julian Aguilar contributed to this report.

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