Northeast Tarrant

Accused stalker canceled lease after Southlake cartel lawyer’s killing, prosecutors say

Defendant Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes, 59.
Defendant Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes, 59. U.S. attorney’s office

A South Texas man accused of stalking a Southlake cartel lawyer canceled his lease on a Grapevine apartment and switched phone numbers soon after the lawyer was killed in 2013.

Federal prosecutors spent most of Tuesday presenting evidence that linked defendant Jose Luis Cepeda-Cortes to finding and tracking attorney Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa.

His attorney has previously said Cepeda-Cortes, 59, of Edinburg, was “duped” into investigating Guerrero by Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, a cousin from Mexico.

Both men are charged with interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit murder for hire and have been on federal trial in Fort Worth for a week.

Ledezma-Cepeda’s son, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Campano, was also charged in the case. Before the trial, Ledezma-Campano, 32, pleaded guilty to the stalking charge.

On Thursday and Friday, he testified against his relatives, outlining how the three men used GPS trackers and rented property in Florida and Grapevine while searching for Guerrero.

Guerrero was fatally shot by two hit men on May 22, 2013.

By June 1, 2013, Cepeda-Cortes told a Grapevine property manager that he was moving out early and would pay the amount remaining on his lease, according to evidence presented Tuesday.

On June 3, 2013, according to the prosecutors’ evidence, Cepeda-Cortes set up a new cellphone number under an alias.

Closely involved

The prosecution’s evidence Tuesday also was in line with Ledezma-Campano’s testimony that Cepeda-Cortes was intimately involved in the search for Guerrero.

Cepeda-Cortes, according to the evidence, sent detailed budget emails to Ledezma-Cepeda. He provided Ledezma-Cepeda, 59, instructions on how to use public records databases, such as a Florida county clerk’s website, where the men found a domestic violence police report against Guerrero.

Cepeda-Cortes set up an account with a private background check service, according to emails shown to jurors, and he found information on Siglo 21 Gaming, a company Guerrero owned with his brother in South Texas.

Cepeda-Cortes also ran searches on the Tarrant Appraisal District’s website for Guerrero’s address on Montecito Trail in Southlake, DEA agent Jeff Lloyd testified Tuesday.

Lloyd said the browser history on a work computer at Cepeda-Cortes’ Rio Grande City business showed a Google Maps search for Guerrero’s address on March 30 —the day after prosecutors say the stalkers were led to Guerrero’s home by one of their GPS trackers.

‘Story spinner’

Before Tuesday’s testimony began, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means allowed each side to give the jury a “summary statement” about the first week of testimony and evidence.

Prosecutor Joshua Burgess emphasized that Cepeda-Cortes “knew who the players were” in the conspiracy to kill Guerrero, including El Gato, the vengeful Beltran Leyva cartel boss who wanted Guerrero dead.

But Cepeda-Cortes’ attorney, Robert Rogers, said, “My client didn’t realize what he was involved in.”

Rogers called Ledezma-Campano, whose testimony provided a rare and sometimes graphic look into the details of a cartel hit job, a “story spinner.”

During cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, Rogers said that Cepeda-Cortes used public information to research Guerrero. Rogers also pointed out, through a government exhibit of Cepeda-Cortes’ phone data, that Cepeda-Cortes had no contact information for El Gato.

The defense is expected to begin presenting its case by the end of the week.