From Texas Public Radio:
One of the two men charged directly with the deaths of 53 people after being in a sweltering trailer in San Antonio’s southwest side appeared in federal court Monday
Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, Texas is accused of being part of the smuggling operation’s organization. During the court hearing, U.S. Attorneys alleged Martinez makes his living off of human smuggling and in previous court documents, Martinez was said to be texting with the driver, Homero Zamorano, on the day of the incident.
Martinez appeared shackled in a navy blue prison uniform at San Antonio’s federal courthouse in front of U.S. District Court Judge Henry Bemporad. He was arrested on June 29 about a day after the incident by Palestine police and was extradited to San Antonio after making an initial court appearance in Tyler.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Spears called Homeland Security Investigations special agent Nestor Canales to testify as a witness regarding Martinez involvement. Canales is the agent who signed off on criminal complaints in all four suspects in the case.
Canales testified that Zamorano’s cell phone contained text messages with a number listed as “Gordito.” Canales said that number was registered to Christian Martinez who was arrested early in the morning of June 29 by Palestine police.
Those text messages included coordinates for pickup and dropoff points regarding the trailer and an image of the truck’s manifest, or a “bill of lading” as Canales testified.
Canales continued that Martinez and Zamorano have worked together on at least three occasions in human smuggling operations but he did not indicate which ones.
Martinez was already the subject of an active investigation with Homeland Security Investigations in Tyler according to court documents. A criminal complaint in Martinez’s arrest alleges he told a confidential informant that he was involved in the San Antonio trailer incident.
Zamorano, who appeared in court earlier this month, faces one count of “transporting illegal aliens resulting in death” and Martinez faces one count of “conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death” for the June 27 incident on Quintana road. Both could face a maximum penalty of death or life in prison.
During cross examination, Michael Gross, one of Martinez’s defense attorneys, asked Canales about Martinez’s ability to understand the charges and his arrest.
Gross told the court that Martinez has a low education level, that he is involved in special education, is unable to read or write and is homeless and jobless. Canales said Martinez appeared to understand his Miranda rights and was able to sign documents with his initials.
Gross asked Judge Bemporad for Martinez to be placed in house arrest with his mother in Palestine instead of jail while the case proceeds. Gross said Martinez was not a flight risk or a danger but the request was denied.
Bemporad called this an “extremely serious case” and told Martinez and the attorneys there are “facts I need to know about that may change the picture” of this case.
Gross, Spears, and David Shearer, a second defense attorney all declined to comment after the hearing ended.
Survivors still in hospital
At least two of the trailer survivors remain in San Antonio hospitals. One, an adolescent boy, is at University Hospital. He was in critical condition when he first arrived, according to a hospital spokeswoman. He is now in fair condition as of Monday.
Another patient, an adult male, is at Methodist Hospital in serious condition.
Of the 16 who survived and were rushed to hospitals, five died from their injuries.
Catholic Charities of San Antonio has provided care and support for nine of the survivors released from the hospitals both during their stays in the hospital and after release. Its CEO Antonio Fernandez, said his agency often picks up people released from Homeland Security and will supply hotel rooms, shelter or other necessities.
“We provide them with food, clothing, whatever we can just to help them in their lives,” he said. “We give them a phone and they can call their destination points.”
Fernandez said two survivors still remain with Catholic Charities. One is the brother of the University Hospital survivor. The other seven have left San Antonio to be with family in other cities such as Houston, San Francisco and New York, Fernandez said.