by BRAD ROLLINS
After one of their co-defendants cut a deal to testify for prosecutors, two local Mexican Mafia members pled guilty this week to charges related to the grisly 2010 murder of a fellow gang member who they suspected was an informant.
On Tuesday, Johnny Gilbert Soliz Jr., 48, pled guilty to murder as part of a plea bargain with the Hays County District Attorney’s office and was sentenced to 40 years in prison by 207th District Court Judge Jack Robison. During the same docket call, Nemesio Garcia Jr., 38, pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years for tampering with physical evidence for his role in helping to dispose of the body of Walter Capello of Lockhart.
After three years of stalemate, prosecutors secured guilty pleas from Soliz and Garcia when Paul Tovar, 45, agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of racketeering. In exchange for his testimony, the Hays County District Attorney’s office will not pursue capital murder, organized crime and other charges Tovar was facing here, said Brian Erskine, the Hays County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Soliz and Garcia.
Tovar‘s deal with the the U.S. Attorney’s office does not include a recommendation for sentencing and “he faces a substantial sentence,” Erskine said. But he will serve that term in federal, instead of Texas, prison where he is less likely to be put at risk by other incarcerated Mexikanemi, Erskine said.
The federal sentence “gets him out of the state prisons,” Erskine said. “Obviously, being a snitch and renouncing his membership is a good way to get his self killed.”
In February, more than two years after their arrests, a grand jury added capital murder to first-degree murder and other lesser charges that were initially filed against Soliz and Tovar.
“That really turned the tide for us. Finally getting [Tovar] to turn state’s witness was key to getting this case resolved,” Erskine said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Cottingham, who signed the deal with Tovar, could not be immediately reached for comment this morning.
Soliz‘s attorney, Tamara Needles, said her client decided he would rather take a 40-year sentence than risk the outcome of a trial.
“It was just to his benefit at this point to take life without parole off the table,” Needles said.
A fourth defendant implicated in the Capello killing, Eloy Davila Jr. of Wimberley, died of natural causes in May 2012 while in the Hays County jail. Garcia originally faced a murder rap along with the other three but prosecutors in March reduced his charges to tampering with evidence and engaging in organized crime. His attorney, Chevo Pastrano, was successful in getting the organized crime charge dismissed by Robison and, at one point, even got Garcia released on bond.
Court records indicate that Mexican Mafia members killed Capello because they suspected him of being a law enforcement informant. He was stabbed 63 times in San Marcos in a murder not sanctioned by Mexican Mafia higher-ups, according to FBI special agent Stephen Hause during federal court testimony in other cases.
On September 1, 2010, federal agents listened in through a wire tap at Davila’s home in the Henry Garza Mobile Home Park near Wimberley as mafia members discussed disposing of Capello’s body. New Braunfels police intercepted Garcia and Soliz as they passed through town headed south; Capello’s body was in the truck bed wrapped in plastic. Contrary to what has been widely reported, the body was not dismembered or decapitated, though it was badly mutilated.
The four Hays County men originally charged with Capello’s death were lower-level members of the mafia’s Austin canton, or chapter. Ruben Flores, the one-time captain in charge of the region, and fifteen others pled guilty in December 2011 to federal charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine and heroin.
In those cases, evidence seized at an Austin luxury apartment used by the Mexican Mafia as a stash house included a ledger of drug transactions written in code so sophisticated that law enforcement officials were unable to decipher it.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to say Garcia and Soliz were sentenced by 207th State District Judge Jack Robison.