By Miriam Raftery
September 6,2014 (Otay)--U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy’s office has announced that charges have been filed against two suspected smugglers accused of abandoning a pregnant woman to die in the Otay Mountains over the 2013 Christmas holiday.
The suspects, Fernando Armenta-Romero and Carlos Hernandez-Palma, face up to 10 years in prison and up to a quarter of a million dollar fine. At an arraignment last week, a judge moved to hold them without bail since they are considered a flight risk and a danger to the community.
According to the complaint, the victim’s husband called for help on December 29th to report that his wife, Jacqueline Capistran-Ochoa, had been suffering medical distress when he set out to seek help and left her in the care of the smugglers, who had refused to aid the woman.
Border Patrol agents conducted an extensive search of the rugged, mountainous areas for two days before finding her body, abandoned along a trail. The Medical Examiner found that her death was caused by diabetes complications and also by hypothermia from the cold winter weather. She was 11 to 12 weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
According to court documents, the couple had made arrangements with smugglers in Mexico to bring them across the border for $12,000. The smugglers claimed the journey would take two days or less, that it would not be arduous, that the terrain was mostly flat and that the most difficult part would be climbing over the border fence.
She had developed diabetes after the birth of their second child and was on diabetes medication. The couple also suspected that she might be pregnant.
Before leaving Tijuana, Mexico, for their journey into the United States, the smugglers took Ms. Capistran for walks around the park to determine whether she was fit enough to make the trip, especially since she appeared overweight and tired. She grew tired and repeatedly required rest stops. The smugglers argued about whether she could make the smuggling trek. Despite their misgivings, they decided to take the chance.
Despite the smugglers’ description of the terrain as mostly flat, the hike was actually mountainous, covered with large boulders and difficult to traverse after climbing over the border fence. After about two days, Ms. Capistran began to slow down and required more frequent rest stops. She told her husband that she felt like there was water in her lungs, and she was having a hard time breathing. Soon she was unable to walk at all.
Her husband repeatedly pleaded with the smugglers to seek help and to use their cellular phone, but they refused, claiming it didn’t work. After the third day, on December 29, 2013, Ms. Capistran was unresponsive. Since the smugglers refused to seek help, Mr. Razo left his wife with the smugglers and hiked into the wilderness on his own. With the help of a Good Samaritan, he finally was able to contact Border Patrol for assistance. Unfortunately, by the time Border Patrol agents and Mr. Razo found Ms. Capistran in the Otay Mountains, she was dead, abandoned along a trail. The smugglers had hiked out of the mountains two days before . One of the suspects called his brother to pick them up, making no effort to assist the stricken woman.
A hearing on their case is slated for this week.