Man charged in fatal ICE ambush

El Paso Times on December 22, 2011 released the following:

“By Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times

A man accused of taking part in the Feb. 11 slaying of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent that also left a second ICE agent wounded was charged on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., after Mexico extradited him to the United States.

Julian “Piolin” Zapata Espinoza faces charges for his alleged role in the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata of Brownsville, and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila of El Paso.

“The extradition and charges filed against Zapata Espinoza is an important step in bringing Jaime and Victor’s alleged shooters to justice,” ICE Director John Morton said. “All of us at ICE are encouraged by today’s action and appreciate the unwavering work and support of all our law enforcement partners in this case.”

“The indictment unsealed today and the successful extradition of ‘Piolin’ to the United States reflect the Justice Department’s vigorous and determined efforts to seek justice for Agents Zapata and Avila,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners in Mexico to hold violent criminals accountable.”

On April 19, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned a four-count indictment against Zapata Espinoza, charging him with one count of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, for the murder of Jaime Zapata; one count of attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; and one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person, both for the attempted murder of Avila; and one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

Zapata Espinoza, who is being held without bond, appeared in U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s court and pleaded not guilty. His next appearance in court is scheduled for Jan. 25.

In a statement, the Mexican National Defense Secretariat said Mexican soldiers captured Zapata Espinoza on Feb. 23, along with other alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel.

Military officials said Zapata Espinoza “stated he was in charge of the group of gunmen that shot the U.S. agent, (and that) he said that this event was a mistake because they thought that the people in the (U.S. agents’) vehicle were members of an antagonistic (rival) group.”

U.S. officials said the two U.S. agents were traveling from a meeting in San Luis Potosi to Mexico City the day they were ambushed by a group of armed men.

Zapata, who began his law enforcement career with the Border Patrol, was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Avila, the ICE agent who was shot twice in the leg, recovered from his wounds.

One of the charges is that Zapata Espinoza participated in the attempted murder of an “internationally protected person,” according to the indictment against him.

“He was apparently a U.S. federal agent that pursuant to international law had special protection,” said Douglas C. McNabb, a lawyer and senior principal with McNabb Associates PC, a global criminal defense firm with a website at

Sheldon Snook, a deputy court clerk in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Attorneys Manual defines “internationally protected persons” based on U.S. legislation and United Nations conventions, including the Vienna Convention.

Such persons can include heads of state, diplomats and others that in this case the U.S. State Department has determined holds the status.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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