A 19-year-old cold case has hit a snag after the investigation uncovered new details that shed troubling light on the death of an informant with possible knowledge of a murder.
Last year the Starr County Special Crimes Unit began investigating cold cases, including a double homicide from 2003.
On April 15, 2003, the bodies of Melissa Godinez, 34, and Juan Valenzuela, 35, both of San Juan, were found in a charred vehicle left northeast of Rio Grande City limits, according to Rio Grande Herald archives. Both had been shot by a high-caliber weapon about 15 feet away.
The crime went unsolved for nearly two decades, until it was reopened. However, The Monitor learned progress was affected by the murder of a high-ranking gang leader-turned informant in 2007.
Marcelino Rodriguez, 34, who held a top spot among the Texas Syndicate gang in the 2000s, was known as a “sillon,” or chairman in the organization. But by 2007 he quietly turned into an informant for the government.
The revelation was made when two men, Juan Ozuna and Barack “Boomba” Garcia, who were working for a drug trafficker, Fidel “Hito” Valle, visited a McAllen law firm to ask for legal representation from Terry Palacios.
“We were going to go talk to him, see if he could help us out, get Fidel Valle out of the situation [he] was in,” Ozuna said during a 2010 jury trial.
Instead, Ozuna and Garcia were told they could not be helped.
Ozuna said that Palacios cited “conflicts of interest” due to having represented Rodriguez in the past.
“We were confused,” Ozuna said. “We didn’t understand why. And Terry Palacios stepped out of the office, and BJ was standing there next to him.”
“BJ,” or Joel Carcaño Jr., was an employee at the law firm. According to witness testimony, Carcaño showed documents, known as a 5K1 letter, to Ozuna and Garcia proving Rodriguez’s cooperation with the government.
Federal prosecutors file 5K1 motions recommending a reduction in sentence if a defendant proves helpful in a case.
“We were like, we couldn’t believe it. So he opened some papers and he showed us there where it said that Marcelino was an informant,” Ozuna said in court, referring to Carcaño.
The other man in the room, Barack “Boomba” Garcia, asked Carcaño for a copy, which was later provided.
However, testimony from an ATF agent, Francisco Arredondo, shared conflicting information.
“Who ended up telling Valle that (Marcelino) was cooperating?” a defense attorney asked Arredondo.
“From my investigation, it was Terry Palacios,” the agent responded.
Palacios was reached Thursday to clarify the events that took place in his office that day, but he said attorney-client privilege prevented him from commenting.
The copy of the agreement circulated the upper echelons of the gang where members voted to murder the chairman for divulging information.
A plot was devised and executed shortly after.
On July 8, 2007, Rodriguez and two men drove to a Hooters restaurant, before he was shot twice in the head with hollow-point bullets on the drive after his “last meal.” His body and stolen vehicle used to drive him were burned in a sugarcane field off of Mile 13 and half.
Testimony provided by informants in the 2010 trial, who also received 5K1 letters, pieced together the events of the murder.
The trigger man and the person who leaked the documents were sentenced to life and 52 months in prison, respectively.
THE SEVERED TIE
Before his death, Rodriguez met with federal investigators at least 10 times, according to his handler, ATF Special Agent Francisco Arredondo, who testified in the trial.
The investigator who was working on the reopened 2003 double homicide believed the murdered gang member would have proven helpful to the ongoing investigation.
“The only thing I can tell you is that the actions taken by that law firm have had long-lasting consequences and it has even had an effect on that current case that you’re asking about,” Robert Caples, former commander of Starr County Special Crimes Unit told The Monitor on Wednesday.
The status of the case is believed to be on hold with the resignation of the Special Crimes Unit commander in January. The unit dissolved and officers who were employed by other law enforcement agencies returned to their respective offices.
The Starr County District Attorney’s Office confirmed they have not received the case, usually the last step after authorities finish the investigation and refer the case to prosecution.
Relatives of the victim, Melissa Godinez, remain skeptical that justice can be obtained, even if a suspect is named.
One of Godinez’s survivors, who asked not to be named due to the risk involved, said, “At the end of the day (she) died, she was mourned. We moved on with life and tried to live it through her.”