A judge signed an order Monday dismissing a murder charge against a 44-year-old Mercedes man accused in a 2017 fatal shooting in Mission.
The dismissal followed a hearing on Friday in which Jose Luis Gutierrez Villareal pleaded guilty to an unrelated drug charge, which was enhanced because he is a habitual offender.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. said Tuesday that state District Judge Joe Ramirez sentenced Villareal to 30 years in prison.
Rodriguez also said that should new evidence arise, prosecutors could again pursue the murder charge.
Villareal’s attorney, Juan “Sonny” Palacios, said he and his client had been pushing for trial because prosecutors only had a strong case against Villareal’s co-defendant, who is a fugitive.
That man is 44-year-old Michael Valle Chavez and a probable cause affidavit for Villareal’s arrest said that sheriff’s investigators have cellphone tower information and phone records that show Chavez was in communication with the victim, Gerardo Alberto Gomez Martinez, minutes before his death.
The only link to Villareal, according to the probable cause affidavit, is that he is seen with Chavez at a Stripes convenience store on the day of the murder.
“Jose admitted he is the person seen in the surveillance video with Michael Chavez and he cleans a gun, puts it in a bag and gives it to Michael. Jose stated that he saw Michael throw the gun into the trash can at Michael’s house,” the affidavit stated.
On Tuesday, Palacios said prosecutors cannot place Villareal at the scene of the murder, which occurred Oct. 16, 2017 in an area near on Los Ebanos Road, just north of Farm-to-Market Road 2221 in Mission.
The attorney said his client had initially been facing a recommendation from prosecutors of 75 years in prison prior to the plea bargain.
He added that the drug charge Villareal plead guilty to is completely unrelated to the murder accusation.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” Palacios said about the deal.
As for Chavez, investigators also have surveillance footage showing Martinez, the victim, following a gray Mercedes-Benz toward the direction of the crime scene.
Chavez owns and drives a 2016 gray Mercedes-Benz passenger car and was in the area of the crime scene at the time of the murder, the affidavit said.
Chavez remains a fugitive.