Trial Starts in Fatal Immigrant Smuggling Case

Texas native Jorge Hernandez Hernandez's trial for his involvement in the 2004 deaths of nine Central American immigrants began yesterday in the town of McAllen.

Armando Campos, 17, testified that he was the one at the wheel when the truck he was driving crashed into a canal, fatally trapping nine immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador. Campos admitted that he had been working for Hernandez for a few weeks at the time of the accident, transporting illegal immigrants between stash houses. The night of the incident, Campos was driving without his lights on in order to avoid detection when he missed a turnoff for a bridge crossing over the canal leading into the Rio Grande river.

Other lower level scouts testified against Hernandez as well. Jose Antonio Arispe Elizondo said he would pick up immigrants after receiving calls from either Hernandez or the man in charge on the Mexican side of the operation. The night of the accident, Arispe testified that by the time he arrived at the canal Campos had already escaped the car, which was almost completely submerged. At that point he and Campos fled the scene without making any effort to rescue the remaining passengers.

Jorge Hernandez Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of transporting and harboring illegal immigrants. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death or life in prison, since people died as a result of the smuggling racket.