Death penalty or life? Jury to decide in killing of Border Patrol agent

BROWNSVILLE — The fate of a man who gunned down a Border Patrol agent could be in the hands of a jury as early as today.

Jurors last week convicted Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval, 34, of capital murder in the 2014 killing of Agent Javier Vega Jr., of La Feria.

He also was convicted of attempted capital murder in the shooting of Vega’s father.

Now, the jury must decide if Tijerina gets the death penalty or life in prison.

The penalty phase of the trial started Thursday. Prosecutors rested Friday after calling a dozen witnesses to the stand, including Vega’s family members who witnessed the shooting.

The sentencing phase continues today when the defense is expected to call an expert witness to the stand. It is being held in the courtroom of 197th state District Judge Migdalia Lopez in Brownsville.

On that fateful day in August 2014, three generations of Vegas were at the scene near Santa Monica where Tijerina attempted to rob the family, prosecutors said.

According to court testimony, Tijerina owed $3,500 to someone because he lost a vehicle engine and that person was threatening Tijerina, so he concocted a plan to steal a vehicle.

During closing arguments, Willacy County prosecutors said Aug. 3, 2014, started out as a day of family time, with some shooting practice in La Feria before the Vegas headed out to a fishing spot near Santa Monica.

Tijerina cased the family while driving around in a red Ford Expedition, following them down to where the family was fishing.

Javier Vega Sr., his wife, Javier Vega Jr.’s wife, two of their children and a friend of the kids were all at the scene that day.

Vega Sr. was wounded.

During testimony, the survivors all pointed out Tijerina as the man who pulled the trigger.

The prosecution brought 44 witnesses, including eye witnesses at the scene and corroborating witnesses, and presented the jury with 340 pieces of physical evidence, including scientific evidence such as DNA and fingerprints found in the red Ford Expedition, gun residue found on Tijerina’s hands, bullet casings and reconstructions of the crime scene.

The jury also saw a videotaped confession in which Tijerina said he did it, Assistant District Attorney Charles “Chuck” Mattingly said.

“I’m doomed. I must pay,” Mattingly, quoting Tijerina’s confession, said during closing arguments.