DA seeking death penalty for 18-year-old suspect in San Benito officer’s shooting

dfwnewsa | February 21, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

DA seeking death penalty for 18-year-old suspect in San Benito officer’s shooting
Rogelio Martinez, 18, of Brownsville, listens as Cameron County Magistrate Judge Leonardo Rincones Jr. reads multiple charges against Martinez during an arraignment at the Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)
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BROWNSVILLE — The office of Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz is seeking the death penalty against an 18-year-old man believed to be the shooter in the killing of San Benito police Lt. Milton Resendez, the city’s first officer to die on duty.

In Cameron County’s 404th state district court, prosecutors told Judge Ricardo Adobbati they were seeking the death penalty against Rogelio Martinez, 18, of Brownsville, Olga Glasgow, the court’s coordinator, said after the hearing.

However, prosecutors have determined they will not seek the death penalty against Rodrigo Axel Espinosa Valdez, 23, a Mexican national, she said.

Before the hearing, attorney Ed Cyganiewicz, who represents Martinez, said he would be “surprised” if prosecutors pursued the death penalty because of his client’s age.

“That will change a lot in terms of preparation of the case,” he said in an interview. “It’s very rare in the state of Texas to seek the death penalty for an 18 year old.”

Prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty against Martinez sends a “strong message” to the community, San Benito Police Chief Mario Perea, who attended the hearing along with Melissa Resendez, the officer’s widow, said.

“We agree with Mr. Saenz,” he said in an interview. “We’re glad the punishment sends a strong message to the community that this type of crime won’t be tolerated.”

Five months after the shooting, the small police department’s officers continue to mourn the death of the beloved, fun-loving official who climbed the ranks during his 27-year career there.

“It’s going to be a long process,” Perea said. “We have to support the family and the officers.”

In December, a Cameron County grand jury indicted Martinez and Espinosa Valdez on charges of capital murder of a peace officer along with six counts of attempted capital murder of a peace officer stemming from Resendez’s Oct. 17 death.

While Martinez is also charged with possession of a prohibited weapon — a “machine gun” — Espinosa is facing two charges of evading arrest or detention with a vehicle.

As part of a Texas Ranger investigation, a probable cause affidavit points to Martinez as the alleged shooter.

During an interview, Martinez confessed to firing at authorities from the passenger seat, shooting Resendez, 54.

San Benito police Lt. Milton Resendez

“Rogelio Martinez escorted investigators to a location in Cameron County where he hid a rifle that he used to shoot at officers,” an affidavit states, adding Valdez Espinosa confessed to running from authorities as Martinez was firing at pursuing officers.

The shooting that shocked residents in this close-knit community of 25,000 erupted amid a fierce hours-long pursuit during which the suspects are accused of exchanging gunfire with authorities before their arrest in Brownsville late Oct. 17.

At about 4:30 p.m., a traffic stop along a South Padre Island beach sparked the pursuit after a Cameron County parks officer pulled over Martinez for speeding in a red GMC Sierra truck carrying Espinosa Valdez, two women including Martinez’s sister, Katherine Martinez, and two children.

An affidavit shows a struggle broke out between Martinez and the officer before Espinosa Valdez climbed into the driver’s seat, pulling off.

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After Martinez jumped into the truck’s bed, Espinosa suddenly stopped as Martinez jumped into the passenger seat.

Amid a pursuit, the truck went down a small road, stopping while the two women carrying children climbed out.

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In Port Isabel, a Cameron County constable spotted the truck before state troopers joined the pursuit heading toward Brownsville, where the suspects exchanged gunfire with officers, Saenz told reporters during a news conference following the shooting.

As Espinosa Valdez drove the truck, Martinez used a pistol and rifle to fire out the window, an affidavit shows.

Mexican national Rodrigo Axel Espinoza Valdez, 23, is escorted out of the 404th state District Court on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, after being arraigned by Cameron County Judge Ricardo M. Adobbati and pleading not guilty to all counts involving the fatal shooting of San Benito Police Lt. Milton Resendez on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, during a police pursuit in San Benito. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

When authorities stopped firing amid concern of striking residents, they lost track of the suspects, Saenz said.

Amid the pursuit, investigators were pinging Martinez’s cellphone to track the truck.

While searching for the suspects in Brownsville, authorities spotted the two men riding in a black Ford Expedition at about 10:30 p.m. before state troopers pursued the truck, Saenz said.

“The vehicle was pursued to San Benito where multiple officers reported that the front passenger of the vehicle was discharging a firearm again at officers in pursuit,” an affidavit stated.

At about 10:58 p.m. in San Benito, near Business 77 and Sam Houston Boulevard, Resendez spotted the truck before one of the suspects fired two rounds into his vehicle, Perea told reporters during the news conference.

One round pierced the truck’s door, the bullet entering Resendez’s body from beneath his bulletproof vest, Perea said.

Documents show an investigator found Martinez shot Resendez, who was rushed to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, where he died.

“Texas Ranger Phil Kucia assisted on the crime scene in San Benito and later confirmed that no San Benito Police Department officers discharged their weapons at the fleeing vehicle; only the front passenger in the suspect vehicle fired his weapon,” an affidavit stated.

Law enforcement officials on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, at the scene of a shooting that occurred late Tuesday night in San Benito (Courtesy photo)

When the pursuit headed back to Brownsville, a state trooper fired at the truck, shooting out its tires.

After the suspects fled on foot, authorities arrested them on International Boulevard.

The two men were jailed in Cameron County’s Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center.

In San Benito, Resendez became the city’s first police officer killed in the line of duty.

In the Valley, he becomes the fifth officer killed on duty since 2019.

Jury announcements are set for May 28 with a jury trial expected June 10.

The post DA seeking death penalty for 18-year-old suspect in San Benito officer’s shooting appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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