A trial date for a man accused in the murder of a federal immigration agent could be picked in September, a judge in Washington said today.
The U.S. Justice Department extradited Julian Zapata Espinoza from Mexico to the United States in December to stand trial here for his alleged role in the shooting death of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico.
Zapata and a colleague, ICE Special Agent Victor Avila, came under attack in Mexico in February 2011. Zapata was killed. Avila survived. Espinoza, also known as “Piolin,” is also charged with attempted murder. A grand jury brought charges in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last year.
Espinoza, who appeared in court today for a status hearing, is being held in custody pending trial. His lawyer, Ron Earnest, a court-appointed solo practitioner, said today in court he anticipates mounting a legal challenge over the legitimacy of statements in the case.
Earnest said he is reviewing thousands of pages the government has provided him in discovery. He said information is "flowing abundantly" from DOJ.
“I need to find out what happened when he was in custody in Mexico,” Earnest said after the hearing. Earnest said he may explore whether statements were made to the authorities under coercion.
A DOJ lawyer, Michael DiLorenzo of the U.S. Attorney’s Office national security section in Washington, said the government wants the “quickest trial date possible.” Espinoza is due back in court in September.
Zapata's death is the focus of scrutiny on Capitol Hill. In February, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department for information about the Zapata murder.
Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee On Oversight & Government Reform, have focused their questions in part on reports that the gun used in the Zapata killing was illegally brought into Mexico from the United States.