SAN ANTONIO, Texas - A man charged in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants being smuggled inside a tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio pled guilty on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Christian Martinez, 29, of Palestine, entered a plea of guilty to multiple counts in connection to the deadly tractor trailer smuggling incident.
Martinez pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Transport Migrants Resulting in Death, one count of Conspiracy to Transport Migrants Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury and Placing Lives in Jeopardy, one count of Transportation of Migrants Resulting in Death, and one count of Transportation of Migrants Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury and Placing Lives in Jeopardy.
Martinez and co-defendant Homero Zamorano Jr., 47, of Elkhart, the driver of the tractor trailer, were initially charged by indictment on July 20, 2022.
Four other co-defendants were identified and charged in a superseding indictment on June 7, 2023: Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30; Felipe Orduna-Torres, 29; Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, 38; and Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 54.
The indictment alleges that in the days leading up to June 27, 2022, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, and others exchanged the names of undocumented migrants who would be smuggled in an upcoming tractor-trailer load.
The four additional defendants charged in the superseding indictment allegedly orchestrated the retrieval of an empty tractor-trailer and its corresponding handoff to the driver on June 27.
According to the superseding indictment, Martinez drove Zamorano from Palestine to San Antonio where Zamorano picked up the empty tractor-trailer. Orduna-Torres allegedly provided the Laredo address at which Zamorano loaded the migrants into the tractor trailer.
The indictment also alleges that Gonzalez-Ortega traveled to Laredo to meet the tractor-trailer, where at least 66 undocumented individuals, including eight children and one pregnant woman, were loaded for smuggling.
Martinez, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, Rivera-Leal, and Gonzales-Ortega then coordinated, facilitated, passed messages, and made each other aware of the tractor trailer’s progress.
Martinez is scheduled to be sentenced on January 4, 2024, and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.