Tijuana duo indicted in hostage-taking death of San Diego teen
In a case prosecutors and defense attorneys agree “covers novel questions of fact and law,” two Tijuana men have been indicted on drug-trafficking and hostage-taking charges in connection with the killing of a San Diego teenager in Mexico.
According to prosecutors, the 19-year-old victim, who was identified only by his initials, stole drugs that he was supposed to smuggle from Mexico into the United States. In response, the alleged drug traffickers kidnapped the teen from a Tijuana hotel at gunpoint and took him hostage in an effort to extort his parents.
Shortly thereafter, the alleged kidnappers cut off contact with the family. The victim has not been seen or heard from since May 30, 2020, and is presumed dead.
A federal grand jury handed down an indictment against the Tijuana residents, 21-year-old Wyatt Valencia-Pacheco and 22-year-old Jonathan Emmanuel Montellano-Mora, in June. The indictment was unsealed last week.
It accuses the duo of intentional killing while engaged in drug trafficking, a charge punishable by a minimum of 20 years in federal prison, and two charges that carry minimum life sentences: hostage-taking resulting in death and conspiracy to take hostages resulting in death.
‘Big Mike’ Lerma, reputed Mexican Mafia member, charged with ordering murder at L.A. prison
Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged Michael Lerma with ordering the murder of an inmate at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles.
All three charges also carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Valencia-Pacheco, who also goes by “Jacob Herrera” and “JC HF,” is in custody, and a federal magistrate judge on Friday declined to release him on bond. Montellano-Mora, who also goes by “Che Cho” and “Chori,” remains a fugitive.
At least one additional “joint offender,” listed in the indictment by only his initials, has been arrested and charged as a juvenile.
In a court filing submitted by prosecutors and Valencia-Pacheco’s attorneys, the sides agreed the case will be complex, dealing with “rarely-litigated offenses,” and should not be subject to normal rules that guarantee a speedy trial.
“Defendant is charged with activity that covers novel questions of fact and law,” the court filing read. “Specifically, Defendant is charged for his role in a drug-related conspiracy to hold the victim hostage and murder. All events occurred outside the United States. These types of charges are rarely used with these types of facts.”
According to prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, the victim was a U.S. citizen and San Diego resident who had twice been arrested for strapping drugs to his body and trying to enter the U.S. through a port of entry. On May 28, 2020, he allegedly stole 3 pounds of methamphetamine from a drug trafficker connected with Valencia-Pacheco and Montellano-Mora.
Mexico’s new culture war: Did a pyramid light show ‘decolonize’ or rewrite history?
Monument removals and a replica of the Templo Mayor pyramid infuriated critics, but can Mexico’s populist government spark an Indigenous cultural renaissance?
Almost immediately, Valencia-Pacheco began messaging threats to the victim, and he later told his girlfriend he was going to kill the teen, prosecutors allege. Just before midnight the next day, “three males forcibly took the victim from a hotel in Tijuana at gunpoint” in a kidnapping captured on hotel surveillance cameras, prosecutors say. One of kidnappers used the gun to beat the victim.
Early the next morning, the kidnappers contacted the victim’s mother and stepfather, demanding $2,000 or $3,000, prosecutors said. The kidnappers provided proof of life through a video call, but the victim’s family told authorities he appeared beaten and bloodied.
Throughout the morning, Valencia-Pacheco allegedly discussed places where they could “get [the victim] signed” — or kill him — suggesting they “smoke” him by a nearby dam or a canal, prosecutors allege.
The family last had contact with the victim around 12:30 p.m. that day, according to prosecutors, who say the victim was tortured and killed.
“A misguided youth tangled with the wrong people and paid a terrible price, and now his family lives with the unspeakable horror of their loss,” acting U.S. Atty. Randy Grossman said in a news release. “The narcotic netherworld is full of extreme danger and tragedy, and this case is no exception.”
The FBI investigated the case, and prosecutors said the electronic evidence seized through warrants will “likely exceed a million pages,” much of which will have to be translated from Spanish.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.