A Webb County jury on Thursday sentenced a Mexican man who repeatedly returned to the United States after being deported to life in prison for the July 2015 murder of his U.S. citizen wife.
The punishment for Juan Francisco De Luna Vasquez, an undocumented immigrant from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, ends a dark chapter for the family of Angie Martinez, who was a 27-year old mother of three when De Luna bludgeoned her with a hammer then strangled her with a belt.
“We got justice for my sister, that’s all we really wanted,” said sister Martha Martinez.
The case highlighted gaps in what Martinez’s family said is an immigration system unable to prevent a repeat offender from coming back into the United States after being deported four times.
“The system needs to change,” Martinez said. “Police and Border Patrol need to be more careful with people who have been deported. This could have been prevented. She would still be here.”
De Luna’s defense attorney sought a lesser sentence and tried to convince the jury the killing was not premeditated but rather a crime of passion. De Luna pleaded guilty to the murder charge earlier this week.
"In the charge of the court, the jury had to answer 'no' to a special issue of punishment which stated that the defendant did not act in the heat of passion arising from adequate cause," said Webb County District Attorney spokeswoman Yanira De Leon in a statement. "After two hours of deliberation, the jury assessed the punishment of life in prison."
Martha Martinez said she was asked to testify about her sister’s abusive relationship with De Luna and how the couple’s three children, ages 10, 9 and 4, have dealt with the loss of their mother.
A Texas Tribune investigation of De Luna’s alleged criminal past earlier this year revealed his interaction with local and federal law enforcement dated back to at least 2006.
De Luna was first arrested in January of that year on an assault charge that was later dismissed. He was deported to Mexico later that month.
In late June 2006, he was apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol and charged with improper entry by an alien, federal court documents show. But days later he was back in Webb County police custody after being picked up and charged with evading arrest, resisting arrest and making terroristic threats. The charges were still pending when Angie Martinez was killed.
On July 3, 2006, a federal magistrate convicted De Luna of improper entry and ordered him deported and placed on unsupervised probation for three years. He paid a $10 fine but didn’t serve prison time.
In 2010, De Luna was arrested after a warrant was issued for failing to show up to court on his earlier charges, according to Webb County Jail records. But he was out on the streets soon after.
In the fall of 2013, De Luna was arrested and charged with DWI and striking an object on a highway. With his previous charges still pending, he was booked into Webb County Jail again. But he bonded out the same day after posting $2,500.
When the Tribune first reported about De Luna in February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement referred all inquiries about De Luna to the U.S. Border Patrol. But the agency’s Laredo Sector said there was no record their office ever came across De Luna. An agency official in Washington D.C. said it couldn’t release details about some deportees because of privacy laws.
After his July 2015 arrest for murder, ICE placed a federal detainer — a request to have an inmate transferred to federal custody upon his or her release — on De Luna.