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Alleged driver, organizer in San Antonio trailer deaths get new charges in grand jury indictment

San Antonio Federal Courthouse - PALACIOS - 071822.jpg
Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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San Antonio's federal courthouse

A grand jury sent down a four count indictment against Homero Zamorano and Christian Martinez Wednesday for the deaths of 53 people and serious injury of 11 others who spent hours inside a hot trailer found last month in San Antonio.

Four people were initially arrested in the hours after the trailer was found. In addition to Zamorano and Martinez, two Mexican nationals arrested at the house where the trailer was registered also received new, yet unrelated, charges.

Martinez and Zamorano could face the death penalty if convicted.

The four changes include:

- One count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death;
- One count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death;
- One count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy;
- One count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.

The indictment alleges the conspiracy to transport could have begun as early as March of this year.

In court earlier this week, Homeland Security Investigations Nestor Canales said Zamorano, 46, and Martinez, 28, have worked together on human smuggling at least three times.

A criminal complaint filed by Canales says a cell phone number registered to Martinez was saved as “Gordito” on Zamorano’s phone, and the two were texting on the day of the incident.

The “resulting in death” counts carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or death. However, it will be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland if the Department of Justice seeks the death penalty, a decision which the department said would come at a ‘later time.’ The injury counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

At least 64 people were inside the trailer. They came from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala and were likely in the U.S. without authorization.

Forty-eight people were dead when authorities arrived at the trailer on June 27. Sixteen were taken to hospitals, where five would die from their injuries.

Several of the survivors released from the hospital left San Antonio to be with family in other cities after receiving help from Catholic Charities of San Antonio.. Two more remain in Catholic Charities care and two are still in local hospitals recovering in fair and serious condition.

A separate indictment charged 23-year-old Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and 48-year-old Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, a father and son who are both citizens of Mexico, with “one count each of possession of a firearm while unlawfully present in the United States,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Texas.

The government claims the trailer was registered to a San Antonio home from where San Antonio police officers saw the D’Lunas leaving in separate vehicles shortly after the incident.

“After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D’Luna-Mendez and D’Luna-Bilbao. D’Luna-Bilboa was in possession of a handgun that was found in the center console of the truck he was driving. A search warrant was executed at the residence where additional firearms were located,” a news release said.

The D’Lunas have not been charged for the deaths or injury to the trailer victims.

All four men remain in federal custody. No further court appearances have been set.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules