Drug-hit trial weaves a tale from Mexico to Houston
The slaying of an innocent man in a drug hit was part of an ongoing feud between rival traffickers that spilled blood from Mexico to Houston, say prosecutors who accuse a local man of masterminding the botched plot and other mayhem.
Jaime Arturo Zamora, a former municipal parks department worker, faces up to life in prison if convicted of capital murder.
Zamora, 40, is already serving 27 years without the possibility of parole for a drug conviction that came after he was busted on additional charges while free on bond awaiting the murder trial, which started Tuesday.
"It is a drug war that started in Monterrey (Mexico) and grew like a cancer into our backyards," Assistant District Attorney Shreya Gulamali told jurors. "What you will hear will sound like it came out of a movie."
Jose Perez was shot to death in May 2006 in front of his wife and young children in the parking lot of Chilos, a Mexican-style seafood restaurant on the Gulf Freeway.
Zamora's lawyer, Paul Looney, warned jurors they will hear some brutal things during the trial, but what they will not hear is proof that his client is guilty.
"The evidence is going to come in a manner that is just gruesome," he predicted "You are going to hate the evidence and you might even hate all the players, but it is your sworn duty to look for proof of the allegation."
Among the challenges for prosecutors is connecting Zamora to the hit, as he was not at the shooting scene.
Looney has previously sought to portray Zamora as a family man and former youth baseball coach who lived in a simple home across the street from his parents.
The Perez slaying went unsolved until years later, when authorities investigating a suspected weapons trafficker caught a break.
In a bid for leniency, officials said, the weapons trafficker turned informant and led authorities into the middle of the rivalry between Zamora and Santiago Salinas, a hated rival.
Hit men allegedly working for Zamora shot Perez when they mistook him for Salinas, who looked similar, had a wife by the same name, and was even in the Chilos restaurant during the attack.
Three men involved in that shooting, including the triggerman, have already been convicted in connection with it.
Salinas — the original target of the Chilos restaurant attack — was killed six months later in the doorway of the Baymont Inn & Suites, a motel also on the Gulf Freeway.
Salinas' mother, Benita Salinas, testified that Zamora and her son were friends since childhood.
As adults, they had a dispute.
Santiago Salinas was warned by Zamora's older brother — a major drug trafficker who was later shot to death in Mexico — that if Salinas ever went to Monterrey he would be killed, she said.
Salinas' older brother, Saul Salinas Jr., testified that Jaime Zamora used to supply him with cocaine, but there was a falling-out that involved a home invasion and the theft of several pounds of cocaine.
Salinas, who is now serving time in U.S. prison, recalled how long before dealing drugs with them, he stole cars with the Zamoras.
"We all knew each other for years," said Salinas.
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