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Gulf cartel-linked Border Patrol agent Joel Luna convicted of corruption but acquitted of murder

February 1, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Gulf cartel-linked Border Patrol agent Joel Luna convicted of corruption but acquitted of murder

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On Tuesday, a jury in Cameron County found Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna guilty of participating in organized criminal activity but cleared him of the murder charge that could have put him behind bars for life without the possibility of parole. He is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in state prison.

His brother Eduardo, an alleged sicario for the Gulf Cartel, was found guilty on four counts, which includes capital murder. He was hit with a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors had taken the death penalty off the table, The Texas Tribune reported.

Both men were on trial for the same four charges, which included engaging in organized crime and drug trafficking — and killing a would-be snitch who threatened to rat them out to authorities. The remains of the victim, Franky Palacios, were discovered naked and decapitated in the waters off South Padre Island nearly two years ago.

After the verdicts were announced, his common-law widow, Martha Sanchez, gave a tearful statement.

“The violent assassination of my husband changed my life forever,” Sanchez said in Spanish. “I lost peace, tranquility, and purpose in my life.”

During the trial, Sanchez was portrayed as hateful to her common law husband. The state’s star witness — the older Luna brother, Fernando — testified that he had gotten text messages from Sanchez referring to Franky as a “f*****g traitor” and warning that he was going to reveal the drug trafficking operation to officials.

Fernando said he sent her texts to Eduardo the day before the alleged hitman killed Franky by shooting him in the head at an Edinburg tire shop, and prosecutors described the texts as a significant catalyst for the slaying.

Because the case involved a U.S. Border Patrol agent, it raised apprehensions about law enforcement corruption along the U.S.-Mexico border. After the verdict had been announced, Joel Luna abandoned his right to have the jury decide his punishment and accepted a 20-year sentence.

The agent also waived his right to appeal as part of his deal.

“What comes out of this for the public is the evils of drugs, money, and corruption,” Assistant District Attorney Gustavo Garza, the case’s prosecutor, said. “Eventually this country is going to have to deal with its insatiable appetite for illegal drugs. It doesn’t lead to anything good for society.”

When asked if the verdict left U.S. Border Patrol with a black eye, Garza responded, “Any time you have a peace officer who has sworn to uphold the law and protect the public and goes rogue — that is not a good experience for the organization.”

Joel Luna’s lawyer, Carlos Garcia, expressed his disappointment.

“I thought that the state’s witnesses we were able to establish uncontradicted that my client had been put in a bad spot by his delinquent brothers, and his brothers did everything they could to keep secret their wrongdoing,” Garcia said. He also noted that Luna’s family is “devastated.”

“They were living the American dream,” he added.

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