Friday, January 3, 2020

‘Cartel hitman’ sentenced for 2008 execution


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twelve years after Danny Baca’s bullet-riddled body was set on fire and left on the Pajarito Mesa as a message to anyone who might decide to cross the Mexican Cartel, the last man charged in his death was sentenced to life in prison plus 15 years.

Friday morning in a hearing in a fourth-floor courtroom filled with two rows of his tearful and outraged family members, Jaime Veleta — who prosecutors have called a cartel hitman — learned his fate.

“During the trial I couldn’t help but think what the last minutes of (Baca’s) life were like,” said prosecutor John Duran, as he asked for the maximum sentence. “Being driven out to the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night, in the same time of year that we have now — cold — and essentially executed and lit on fire. It’s egregious it took such a long time to bring this man to justice.”

Judge Cindy Leos agreed, saying “this was incredibly violent, it was premeditated.”

After a week-long trial in early October a jury deliberated for only a couple of hours before finding Veleta guilty of first degree murder, conspiracy and kidnapping.

The whole ordeal started when 53-year-old Baca was tasked with bringing $7,000 worth of marijuana and cocaine hidden in a compartment of a white Ford Mustang from Mexico to El Paso. Instead he brought at least part of it to Albuquerque, possibly selling it.

So Veleta and cousins Jose and Mario Talavera went to his house in the East Mountains, looking for the missing drugs, and instead found the empty and dismantled car.

They took Baca to the Pajarito Mesa, west of Albuquerque, and killed him.

“This was a message clearly being sent by Mr. Veleta and his associates that these type of things are not tolerated,” Duran said.

Jose Talavera, now 33, was arrested in 2011 in Valencia County. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in 2011 and was sentenced to 15 years. Mario Talavera, now 37, was arrested in 2015 after U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Cuauhtémoc, Mexico. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2017 and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Another accomplice, Gerardo Nunez, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy in 2012 and agreed that he would testify against the other men, according to court documents.

Veleta was arrested in Mexico and extradited in 2018. He had been locked up in the Metropolitan Detention Center ever since.

Baca’s family did not attend Friday’s sentencing hearing.

When Veleta was given a chance to speak at the hearing, he addressed the prosecutor, pushing back on statements that the murder was “willful and deliberate” and expressing frustration with the way the trial went. He said he had not been on the run in Mexico, but rather had been living there with his family.

“I’m not that person they say I am — that I’m a cartel member, I’m a cartel assassin,” Veleta said, standing next to his attorney. “I’m a hard working man and I’ve always been a hard working man. I have two daughters, I have a wife, I still have a family.”

Following the hearing, as his family filed out of the courthouse, his sisters referred to his statements, saying he did what he had to do to save his wife and daughter, who had been kidnapped.

“We don’t know how it’s first degree murder willfully,” said Veronica Nunez. “It should be manslaughter.”

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

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