Mexican smugglers convicted in sea death of Coast Guard Chief Horne

uscgc-halibu-logo.jpgTwo Mexican nationals from Ensenada who were apprehended on a smuggling panga in December 2012 were convicted today in the death of Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III. Horne, 34, of Redondo Beach was the executive petty officer, or second in command, on the Marina del Rey-based cutter Halibut when the crew approached a panga at night near Santa Cruz Island. According to testimony, the small boat rammed an inflatable dispatched from the Halibut and Horne suffered a serious head injury. Horne was rushed to shore but died of his injuries.

Chief Horne was the first member of the Coast Guard to be murdered on duty since 1927. He left a wife and young daughter.

The smugglers ran and were arrested later at sea near the Mexican border.

From this afternoon's news release:

Following a seven-day trial, a federal jury convicted one of the defendants of second-degree murder in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who died while his boat was attempting to interdict the panga boat near Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

The two men found guilty today are:

Jose Meija-Leyva, 42, of Ensenada, who was found guilty of murder, as well as two counts of failure to heave to and four counts of assaulting federal officers with a deadly and dangerous weapon; and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 44, of Ensenada, who also was convicted in the two counts of failure to heave to (as an accessory after the fact in one count and as an aider and abettor in the second count) and in the four counts of assault (as an accessory after the fact).

Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Gary A. Feess on May 12.

When he is sentenced, Meija-Leyva will face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison. At sentencing, Beltran-Higuera will face a statutory maximum sentence of 60 years.

Chief Petty Officer Horne, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident, was the first Coast Guard officer murdered while on duty since 1927.

“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne’s death will be held accountable,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard. “While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne’s killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”

Chief Petty Officer Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

Coast Guard officers aboard the Halibut launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. on December 2. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga boat, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga boat then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat. As the panga boat rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering the small boat out of the path of the panga boat.

Despite these efforts, the panga boat rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. Chief Petty Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a fatal injury. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.

After striking the Coast Guard’s small boat, the panga boat crew fled the scene.
Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga boat until it was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel about four hours later approximately 20 miles north of the Mexico-United States border. Meija and Beltran were arrested at this point.

The investigation in this case was being conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) with the assistance of the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) in San Pedro.

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Responders stories on LA Observed:
Cory Iverson, 32, California firefighter dies on Thomas Fire
Biggest maybe, but not close to the worst LA brush fire
Kelly Wong, 29, Los Angeles firefighter
Steven Owen, Los Angeles Sheriff's sergeant, 53
Motorcycle head-on with fire truck in Angeles Forest on GoPro
Wanted ex-LAPD officer caught in Mexico, brought back to U.S.
LA firefighters and dogs return from Nepal (video)
Malibu wedding crashed by helicopter rescue (video)