McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Two Texas men have been indicted on charges relating to the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in a stifling tractor-trailer on June 27 in San Antonio in what is the deadliest human smuggling incident ever in the United States.
In addition, two Mexican national men also were indicted on gun charges relating to the June 27 smuggling event, according to the U.S. Justice Department
A grand jury on Wednesday in San Antonio handed up indictments against Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, of Pasadena, Texas, and Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, Texas, the Justice Department said in a news release.
Each are charged with one count of the following:
- Conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death.
- Transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death.
- Conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.
- Transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death sentence. The Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a later, the Justice Department said.
A grand jury on Wednesday also indicted Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, both citizens of Mexico, with one count each of possession of a firearm while unlawfully present in the United States.
According to a criminal complaint filed June 28 in the U.S. District Court Western District of Texas, the men were stopped by law enforcement leaving a San Antonio resident where the 18-wheeler truck had been registered and they had handguns in their pickup truck and at their residence. They also had expired visas.
They face 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is leading the investigation into the deaths of the 50 adults and three children migrants who were discovered on June 27 in the hull of an 18-wheeler in southwest San Antonio, a couple hours from the Mexican border.
Many died from asphyxiation and heat-related causes in triple-digit temperatures. Forty-eight individuals died at the scene, including 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Honduras, the Justice Department reported.
San Antonio police arrested Zamorano after he was found “hiding in the brush after attempting to abscond,” according to the Justice Department.
A search warrant for his cell phone “discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event,” the agency said.
The tractor-trailer passed through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint that is 29 miles outside of Laredo on Interstate 35 which is commonly called “Charley Checkpoint 29.” Video surveillance showed the truck passing through and HSI agents said Zamorano “matched” the driver in the video.
In an exclusive interview with Border Report on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said that 11 of the 53 deceased migrants from that incident had “serious criminal records” in the United States.
“That means they’d been here before and they had broken the law,” Cuellar told Border Report.
This included charges of child abuse and homicide, said Cuellar whose hometown is the border town of Laredo.
The deceased included migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and most were men.
Ten adults and one child also were injured, according to the Justice Department.
Cuellar, who is vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee, told Border Report that between Oct. 1, 2021, and July 6, Border Patrol agents stopped 195 tractor-trailers that were carrying unauthorized migrants at the “Charley Checkpoint 29,” and border agents “rescued” between 7,800 and 8,000 migrants from trucks they stopped there.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com