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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Two Suspected Smugglers Charged With Leaving A Woman To Die In The Otay Mountains

SAN DIEGO – Two suspected alien smugglers, Fernando Armenta-Romero and Carlos Hernandez-Palma, were arrested over the Labor Day weekend for allegedly leaving a woman to die in the Otay Mountains over the 2013 Christmas holidays. Yesterday, charges of bringing in an illegal alien resulting in death were filed against the alleged smugglers, who were arraigned today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford.

According to the amended complaint, on or about December 29, 2013, at approximately 7:10 PM, the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue (“Border Patrol”) unit responded to a report of a 32-year-old undocumented alien female abandoned in the Otay Mountain Wilderness. The Otay Mountain Wilderness is located near the U.S.-Mexico border in southeastern San Diego County. This is a rugged and isolated area with limited access to roads and no development. Border Patrol agents contacted the reporting party, later identified as Baltazar Razo-Barreto (“Razo”). Mr. Razo identified himself as the husband of the 32-year-old woman, who he identified as Jaqueline Capistran-Ochoa (“Capistran”). He told the agents that Ms. Capistran had been in medical distress when he left her in the care of others while he sought help.

After an extensive search of the mountainous area over a period of two days, Mr. Razo eventually led Border Patrol agents to an area where they discovered the body of a woman, who Mr. Razo identified at the scene as his wife, Ms. Capistran. When Ms. Capistran was found, she had no pulse and displayed signs of rigor mortis. According to the medical examiner, Ms. Capistran’s death was attributed to hyperglycemia and ketoacidosis due to diabetes mellitus and hypothermia from environmental exposure. As alleged in the complaint, the medical examiner reported that Ms. Capistran was pregnant and estimated the gestational age of the fetus at approximately 11 to 12 weeks.

According to court documents, Mr. Razo and his wife, Ms. Capistran, made arrangements with smugglers in Mexico to be brought illegally into the United States in December 2013. The smugglers identified themselves to Mr. Razo as “CARLOS” and “ARMENTA,” according to the complaint.

The following information is alleged in the complaint:
The smugglers told Mr. Razo that they would smuggle him and Ms. Capistran into the United States for $12,000. During their discussion, the smugglers explained that the journey from Mexico into the United States would take 1.5 to 2 days, including frequent breaks. They added that it was not particularly arduous as the terrain was mostly flat. The smugglers told Mr. Razo that the hardest part was climbing the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Mr. Razo relayed this information to Ms. Capistran. She had developed diabetes after the birth of their second child and was on diabetes medication. They 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. Ms. Capistran walked with the smugglers through the park, but often 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 given the promised payment. On or about December 26, 2013, CARLOS and ARMENTA smuggled Mr. Razo and Ms. Capistran into the United States by climbing over the U.S./Mexico boundary fence in Tijuana, Mexico.

Despite the smugglers’ description of the terrain as mostly flat, the hike was actually mountainous, covered with large boulders and difficult to traverse. After approximately two days, Ms. Capistran began to slow down and required more frequent rest stops. Ms. Capistran told Mr. Razo 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.

Mr. Razo repeatedly pleaded with the smugglers to seek help and to use their cellular phone. However, the smugglers refused. They claimed the phone did not work and that it had been destroyed. 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 CARLOS and ARMENTA, and hiked into the wilderness on his own. With the help of a Good Samaritan, Mr. Razo eventually contacted Border Patrol for assistance. Unfortunately, by the time Border Patrol agents and Mr. Razo found Ms. Capistran in the Otay Mountains, it was too late. Ms. Capistran had died and was left along a trail in the mountains. CARLOS and ARMENTA were gone. They had hiked out of the mountains two days before and called ARMENTA’s brother to pick them up.

CARLOS and ARMENTA made their initial appearance today before Judge Crawford for arraignment. The Government moved to detain both alleged smugglers based on risk of flight and danger to the community. A detention hearing is scheduled for September 9, 2014, at 9:30 a.m., before Judge Crawford.

DEFENDANT   Case Number: 14MJ2956-KSC
Fernando Armenta-Romero Age: 43  
Carlos Hernandez-Palma Age: 35  

Count 1:  Title 18, United States Code, Section 1324 – Bringing in Illegal Aliens Resulting in Death – statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, a 3-year term of supervised release, and $100 special assessment. 
All defendants


U.S. Border Patrol - Chula Vista Intelligence Division

*Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged.  All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.     

Updated July 23, 2015