Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:00 am
Laura B. Martinez | The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE —A trial date was set Thursday for the lead suspect in the slaying case of former federal agent Jaime Zapata, who was gunned down in Mexico nearly two years ago.

Julian Zapata Espinoza is set to stand trial June 3 in Washington, D.C., accused of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent’s murder.

Zapata Espinoza appeared Wednesday in a District of Columbia courtroom for a status hearing where a federal judge set the June trial date, authorities said.

The 32-year-old Brownsville native was killed in February 2011 in Mexico’s San Luis Potosi state after encountering heavy gunfire by suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel.

Victor Avila, a fellow ICE special agent assigned to an attaché in Mexico City, was wounded in the attack.

Zapata Espinoza, an alleged leader of the Zetas, and five other suspected members of the drug cartel were apprehended in Mexico about a week after the shooting.

Officials have said they believe at least 15 armed attackers forced the vehicle Zapata was driving off the highway.

Mexican authorities extradited Zapata Espinoza to the United States, where he faces several counts relating to the attack.

The alleged Zeta leader told Mexican authorities that Zapata’s death was a case of mistaken identity. He and others believed the armored Chevrolet Suburban in which Zapata and Avila were riding belonged to a rival drug cartel. Zapata Espinoza’s attorney has said he plans to suppress the statement.

Authorities said Zapata struggled with his assailants as they tried to drag him out of his vehicle. He was shot at least three times through the car window that had accidentally been cracked open. Authorities said 83 spent casings from AK-47 bullets were found at the scene.

Also under arrest for the attacks is Luis Jesus Sarabia Ramon, alias “Pepito Sarabia” and “Z-44,” who was arrested earlier this year in Garcia, state of Nuevo Leon.

Sarabia Ramon is said to be the regional chief of the Zetas in the states of Coahuila, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosi, Mexican authorities said.

He also is said to have ordered attacks against Mexican authorities, law enforcement and military troops.

It is unclear whether Sarabia Ramon will be extradited to the United States to face charges here. His name has not appeared in a search of U.S. court records.

It is unknown if any others have been arrested in connection with Zapata’s slaying. The U.S. Department of Justice did not return a telephone call or reply to an email seeking comment.

Trial date set in case of ICE agent slain in Mexico - The Monitor: Local News: mexico, jaime zapata, united states, victor avila, zeta