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Grand Jury Testimony In Jaime Zapata Murder Case – Accidentally Taped Over By Court Reporter

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More fishiness is going on in the murder case of Laredo ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata who was gunned down in Mexico on February 15, 2011. As was previously reported, one of the murder weapons found at the scene was traced back to a gun dealer in suburban Dallas who was being tailed by U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents for months before the crime. This prompted U.S. Senator John Cornyn and the leaders of the congressional investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, an unauthorized ATF gun-walking program in Arizona, to launch an inquiry into whether ATF ever conducted Texas-based gun-walking operations. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s office, which oversees the ATF, has yet to get back to Cornyn and the others on that question.

Now news comes from The Brownsville Herald, in Zapata’s hometown of Brownsville, Texas, that federal court documents reveal the Justice Department has named three new Mexican suspects in Zapata’s murder. These three are in addition to Julian Zapata Espinoza, 30, who was arrested by Mexican officials a week after the slaying.

Indictments against the three are still sealed, but another court document identifies them as Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera, alias “El Catracho”; Jose Ismael Nava Villagran, alias “Cacho”; and Francisco Carbajal Flores, who has at least four aliases.

Here is the part that I find eyebrow raising. Grand Jury testimony from an FBI agent investigating the murder was “accidentally taped over” by a court reporter.

The indictments against Venegas Rivera, Nava Villagran and Carbajal Flores were still sealed as of Tuesday.

But the U.S. Attorney’s Office mentioned the indictments against the three men and Zapata Espinoza in a notice to the federal court on June 24. The notice said a court reporter had accidentally taped over the April 19 grand jury testimony of an FBI special agent in the investigation into the attack on Zapata and Avila.

What’s even more disturbing is that because the U.S. Attorney’s Office says it doesn’t foresee calling the FBI special agent as a witness in any future trials, it won’t be re-recording a new testimony. In other words, the testimony the agent gave will not be provided to the defense. The Herald’s Emma Perez-Treviño goes on to explain that even though a federal rule requires grand jury proceedings to be recorded by a court reporter or recording device, the U.S. Attorney’s Office maintains that the rule also states the validity of prosecutions is not affected by unintentional failure to make a recording.

To recap, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, an arm of the Department of Justice is investigating a murder that is suspected to have occurred with a weapon the ATF, another arm of the Department of Justice, illegally let into Mexico. Conveniently, testimony from a federal agent who was investigating the events of the murder were taped over. Nothing to see here, America, move right along.

Cindy Casares is a columnist for the Texas Observer. She is also the founding Editor of Guanabee Media, an English-language, pop culture blog network about Latinos established in 2007. She has a Master's in Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Prior to her career in journalism, she spent ten years in New York City as an advertising copywriter. During her undergraduate career at the University of Texas she served under Governor Ann Richards as a Senate Messenger during the 72nd Texas Legislature.