Smuggler convicted of murdering Coast Guard officer
May 13, 2014
A Mexican national caught smuggling drugs in a panga boat was sentenced to life without parole after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the death of a Coast Guard officer patrolling the waters off of the Central Coast.
On Dec. 1, 2012, a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove as an approximately 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat. 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. Jose Mejia-Leyva, 42 and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 44, both of Ensenada, were then arrested.
After a jury found him guilty, the judge sentenced Mejia-Leyva 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.
The judge sentenced Beltran-Higuera 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 fact).