EDINBURG — A 42-year-old Reynosa man accused in the 1998 armed robbery at South Texas College that left a 32-year-old security guard dead was convicted Friday of the lesser offense of aggravated robbery.
Roberto Ivonovich Ojeda Hernandez had been charged with capital murder for the Jan. 13, 1998, shooting death of Carlos Hernandez during an armed robbery at STC while students were registering for classes.
Ojeda, who pleaded not guilty to capital murder, has been on trial since Feb. 22.
During the course of the proceedings, two dozen people testified, including Ojeda, who took the stand in his own defense.
The jury began deliberating at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday and worked until nearly 10:30 p.m. that evening. They gathered again Friday morning and began deliberating at 9 a.m., and reached a verdict at about 5 p.m., making for nearly 18 hours of deliberation.
Ojeda stood flanked by his attorneys, O. Rene Flores and Mauricio Martinez as the defendant’s mother watched from the gallery while state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna read the jury’s verdict.
Flores held his hand on his client’s shoulder as the jury acquitted Ojeda of capital murder and a lesser included charge of murder.
It wasn’t until July 2018, however, that Interpol arrested Ojeda on a warrant McAllen police investigators obtained for his arrest in early February 1999. He was extradited to the United States to face the charges in March 2019.
Authorities had indicated that Ojeda had been on the run following a Feb. 2, 1999, meeting at a Reynosa hotel room where he confessed to the crime at STC. However, he declined to cross with investigators that day.
While on the stand, Ojeda testified that he had never been on the run but instead had been living at the same residence in Reynosa with his common-law wife and three children for two decades.
After his arrest, McAllen police declined to tell a reporter how they honed in on Ojeda and that detail did not surface during his trial.
Investigators had alleged that Ojeda had burst into classroom B-106 with a man named Jesus Lara during registration for classes.
Testimony from witnesses in that room, including two sisters and an STC employee who had sustained wounds from bullet fragments, differed at times as to whether there was one or two shooters and as to the type of weapons they used: either two AK-47s or an AK-47 and a handgun.
What is certain, however, is that someone shot Hernandez, the security guard, with a high-powered rifle before firing rounds into the floor of the classroom. An FBI ballistics expert confirmed this while testifying that the eight casings found matched an AK-47, and a forensic pathologist testified that Hernandez died from a high-powered round and that his wound was not consistent with a round from a handgun.
As for Lara, investigators arrested him on Feb. 6, 1999 — just days after Ojeda’s interview with police in the Reynosa hotel room.
He was indicted on a charge of capital murder on April 29, 1999, but on Aug. 27 of that year, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the charges which Guerra, the judge presiding over Ojeda’s case, granted.
That motion said the request to dismiss the charges was in the interest of justice, but doesn’t add additional info. Neither Lara’s arrest nor the dismissal of the capital murder charge was revealed to the jury during the trial and it’s not immediately clear why the charges were dismissed.
After the shooting at STC, testimony showed that police discovered a white Dodge Dynasty at an H-E-B close to the community college, which investigators later determined to be stolen out of Reynosa.
Investigators also determined that vehicle was stolen from neighborhoods near where both Ojeda and Lara lived and that it crossed into the United States several days before the shooting, followed directly by another vehicle investigators say belonged to Lara.
A search warrant on Lara’s house, however, didn’t reveal any evidence linked to the crime and it wasn’t until after Ojeda’s interview in that Reynosa hotel room that Lara was arrested and charged with capital murder.
That interview was a result of tips from three confidential informants, including a federal prisoner in Lubbock. Investigators were unable to tell the jury who the other two confidential informants were.
It was with that information that investigator Ricardo Tamez consulted with the FBI and the Texas Rangers so they could contact liaisons in Mexico to provide permission for McAllen police to travel into Reynosa and look for Ojeda, who worked at an OXXO convenience store, which is where they found him.
That trip to Reynosa was a source of heated dispute during the trial.
Ojeda testified that he thought he was being kidnapped and that Mexican police physically and verbally abused him after he was taken from the convenience store. He testified that his confession was coerced. Testimony showed that police were not in uniform and the vehicle he was placed in to be taken to the hotel room was unmarked.
He said Mexican police slapped him and showed him photos linked to the investigation and told him he needed to cooperate with the Americans, and Tamez, the lead investigator, testified that he asked the Mexican police in a nice way not to harm Ojeda because he wanted to take a video statement from him.
Prosecutor Orlando Esquivel, however, had argued and presented lines of questioning to indicate that Ojeda knew the officials were police because they identified themselves to one of his coworkers at the OXXO.
He also took Ojeda point-by-point through the video-taped confession and questioning the man while he was on the stand as to how he could know more than a dozen details that weren’t public about the crime.
Defense attorneys, however, had highlighted that there is missing time between the trip from the OXXO to the hotel room that is not on that video, suggesting the confession was coerced.
Ojeda is scheduled for sentencing by the jury Monday afternoon.