WASHINGTON – A reputed member of Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel was arraigned in federal court on Wednesday for the killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent on Mexican soil.
Julian Zapata Espinoza entered a not guilty plea.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the defendant held without bail and scheduled the next hearing for Jan. 24, prosecution spokesman Bob Miller told EFE.
Zapata Espinoza was arrested eight days after the Feb. 15 ambush that left ICE agent Jaime Zapata dead and his colleague Victor Avila wounded. Mexican prosecutors agreed to defer charges against the alleged shooter so he could be quickly extradited to the United States.
Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were attacked by Zetas gunmen while driving from Mexico City to the northern city of Monterrey.
The two agents, who were assigned to the ICE attache office in Mexico City, were driving an armored vehicle when they were attacked in the state of San Luis Potosi.
The six suspects – including Zapata Espinoza – detained by Mexican troops in connection with the ambush told authorities the attack was a case of mistaken identity.
Zapata and Avila were traveling in a Chevrolet Suburban, a popular model among Mexican gangsters, and the suspects said they thought the ICE agents were members of a rival criminal outfit.
The 32-year-old Zapata, a resident of Brownsville, Texas, was on a temporary assignment in Mexico.
“This prosecution exemplifies our unwavering effort to prosecute those who committed this heinous offense against U.S. law enforcement agents,” the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen Jr., said Wednesday.
“We will not rest until those responsible for the murder of Agent Zapata and the wounding of Agent Avila are brought to justice,” Machen said.
About 30 ICE agents are currently working in Mexico, according to the agency, along with others from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, with agents assigned to Mexico City and other cities, such as Monterrey, Hermosillo, Guadalajara, Ciudad Juarez and Durango. EFE