Men Sentenced in Murder of Officer
updated: May 12, 2014, 3:46 PM
Source: United States Attorney's Office
Two Mexican nationals who were found guilty of federal charges stemming from an
incident in which a Coast Guard officer was killed when his vessel was rammed by
a "panga" boat were sentenced today.
The operator of the panga boat was ordered to spend the rest of his life in
federal custody after a jury earlier this year convicted him of second-degree
murder in the death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who died in
late 2012 while his boat was attempting to interdict the panga boat near Santa
Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.
The two men sentenced today are:
Jose Mejia-Leyva, 42, of Ensenada, who was sentenced to life without parole for
his murder conviction, 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 was sentenced to 10 years in
federal prison after a jury found him guilty of 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
Both defendants were sentenced by United States District Judge Gary A.
Feess. Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident,
was the first Coast Guard officer murdered while in the line of duty by
smugglers since 1927.
Senior 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 driver 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 Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water.
Senior 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 as it approached the Mexico-United States
border. Mejia-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera were arrested at this point.
Prosecutors argued for the life sentence for Mejia-Leyva, noting in
court papers that he was previously convicted in the United States of smuggling
aliens and was twice convicted in Mexico of narcotics offenses. "The seriousness
of defendant's conduct and his criminal history demonstrates that he is an
established recidivist whose pattern of smuggling and narcotics trafficking only
aggravates the seriousness of the crime of murder," prosecutors wrote of Mejia-
The investigation in this case was 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.
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