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Teens charged in El Paso cartel shooting

Three teenagers, including a U.S. Army soldier, are charged with murder in the contract killing of a drug cartel lieutenant who was also cooperating with U.S. authorities.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three teenagers, including a U.S. Army soldier, are charged with capital murder in the contract killing of a Mexican drug cartel lieutenant who was also cooperating with U.S. authorities, police said Wednesday.

Army Pfc. Michael Jackson Apodaca, 18, and Christopher Duran, 17, were arrested Monday. A 16-year-old boy, whom police did not identify because of his age, was arrested Wednesday.

Investigators said Apodaca, an El Paso native who joined the Army last year, admitted taking money from another midlevel cartel official to be the triggerman. Duran, police said, told investigators he was paid to be the getaway driver after Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana was shot eight times in front of his two-story stucco home in east El Paso on May 15.

Police said Wednesday the 16-year-old was paid to provide surveillance of Gonzalez — who is believed to be the first ranking cartel member to be killed in the U.S. — on the night he was killed.

Ruben Rodriguez Dorado, a 30-year-old fellow midlevel cartel official and informant for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hired the teens and orchestrated the killing, police said. Rodriguez told investigators his cartel job was to coordinate surveillance by "following intended victims up until their execution in Mexico."

Police: Teens in crime crew
El Paso Police Lt. Alfred Lowe said Tuesday that the teens were introduced to Rodriguez through one of his younger relatives. He said the teens were part of a small crew of local people, not directly associated with the cartel, that Rodriguez recruited to commit crimes on this side of the border.

"He was the older guy, he provided the alcohol, the party locations," Lowe said Tuesday. "And he recruited these people to do his bidding."

Lowe said Apodaca, whose relatives declined to speak with The Associated Press on Wednesday, was not recruited because of the fact that he was in the Army.

About 10 days after the Gonzalez killing, Rodriguez, Apodaca, Duran, and a 16-year-old boy were arrested on theft charges after trying to steal a truckload of TVs from a dealership. El Paso sheriff's deputies said the four tried to hook a 53-foot trailer loaded with flat-screen TVs onto a sport utility vehicle but fled when they couldn't get the trailer attached. They were arrested later in the day.

A person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that the 16-year-old boy charged in Gonzalez's slaying is the same teenager arrested in the theft case. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on a juvenile's criminal history.

Court records show the charges against Rodriguez, Apodaca and Duran are pending. Details of the case against the 16-year-old were not available Wednesday.

$1 million bail
Rodriguez, Apodaca, and Duran remained jailed Wednesday on $1 million bail each on the murder charges. Online jail and court records do not show if Apodaca or Duran have lawyers.

Russell M. Aboud, Rodriguez's lawyer, did not return multiple messages seeking comment.

The 16-year-old was being held by juvenile authorities Wednesday. Police spokesman Chris Mears said prosecutors would decide later if he will be charged as an adult.

A warrant has also been issued for a fifth person, cartel lieutenant Jesus Aguayo Salas, who is also charged with capital murder.

ICE officials have declined to comment on the case.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said Aguayo ordered and paid for the killing. Gonzalez was targeted after he vanished from Mexico in the wake of the arrest another cartel leader and a raid on a cartel warehouse in Mexico, the chief said.

Allen said Gonzalez's killing, on a quiet cul-de-sac in a subdivision that is home to the chief and El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, was prompted by suspicions that 37-year-old Gonzalez was either an informant or had trade alliances amid the Juarez cartel's violent battle with rival drug gangs for control of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

Allen said Tuesday that Gonzalez was in fact an informant working for ICE and living legally in the U.S. on an ICE-issued visa when he was killed.

Gonzalez, whom police said knew he was wanted by the cartel, had previously managed some of the drug gang's smuggling operations.