EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Rafael Figueroa Merino told jurors, listen closely, as he began his testimony on the day he and his hit squad kidnapped a groom, his brother and a family member during the day of a wedding.
Jurors heard audio of talk between members of Figueroa’s squad, watching the wedding ceremony on May 7, 2010, at El Señor de la Misericordia Catholic church in Juárez, or the Lord of Mercy Catholic church. The members of his squad spoke in coded language over radio and some were former members of the Chihuahua state police, according to Figueroa’s testimony.
Thursday’s hearing offered a new insight into the kidnapping and murder of of the groom, Rafael Morales-Valencia, a U.S. citizen; his brother and best man, Jaime Morales-Valencia, a legal permanent resident; and their uncle Guadalupe Morales-Arreola. And, Figueroa’s first-hand testimony began with him explaining to the court that Antonio Marrufo, who was at the helm of the Sinaloa cartel at the time, wanted the three.
Arturo Shows Urquidi and Mario Alberto Iglesias Villegas, who are cartel members, are on trial this week in U.S. federal court in El Paso. The two are accused of being involved in the Sinaloa cartels operations in Juárez in connection to murders, kidnappings, and drug trafficking.
The trials are part of a large indictment by a federal grand jury that included Sinaloa cartel leaders Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Ismael “Mayo” Zambada Garcia. On April 24, 2012, the leaders and 22 other members of the cartel were charged with criminal activities ranging from trafficking drugs to conspiracy to kill in a foreign country.
Figueroa said the day began in Downtown Juárez where he and his team were directed to the church by an informant. Gonzalo Delgado-Chavez, who pleaded guilty to involvement in the murders, met with the team.
In his own testimony in 2013, Delgado said he and Irvin Enriquez, wanted revenge for the death of Enriquez’s father at the hands of the Juárez cartel.
Figueroa continued his testimony on Thursday telling jurors that Delgado directed him and his team to the church’s location. They scoped out the facility, identifying exits and the layout of the church, he said.
When the ceremony began, the hit squad began identifying who they were targeting with the help of Delgado who identified them by their attire. “The celebrated one,” and one with green on. They also identified Morales-Arreola, who was wearing a pink shirt.
U.S. prosecutors played audio of the exchange between the team, most of their chatter in code. They identified people by numbers and alphanumeric symbols like X, which would then be followed by a number.
Meanwhile, Iglesias, who is on trial, was caught in a traffic accident, according to Figueroa’s testimony. They kept calling him over radio asking where he was.
“I am coming,” he would reply.
Eventually, Figueroa and his team said let’s go, and the team headed to the front of the church to confront the three. They were heavily armed and took the three into a GMC truck, he said.
“They were hunched over,” he said.
As they began to speed away, they noticed law enforcement vehicles headed for the church, Figueroa said. They began calling Iglesias, who is nicknamed “El 2,” to ask where he was and to hurry.
Eventually, they took the men to separate safe houses where they stored guns, drugs and money. The brothers were taken to one house and Morales-Arreola to another. They were later found tortured and killed.