Two Mexican nationals were convicted today in the death of a Marina del Rey-based U.S. Coast Guard chief petty officer, who was thrown into the ocean when the search boat he was aboard was rammed by a smuggling boat near the Channel Islands.
A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Jose Meija-Leyva, 42, of second-degree murder, two counts of failure to heave to -- an order to stop a vessel so a federal law enforcement officer may board -- and four counts of assaulting federal officers with a deadly and dangerous weapon.
Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 44, also was convicted in the 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.
Meija-Leyva faces a possible life sentence in federal prison and Beltran-Higuera faces up to 60 years behind bars. Sentencing is set for May 12.
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident, was the first Coast Guard officer to be murdered while on duty since 1927.
“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne's death will be held accountable,” said Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard.
“While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne's killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones,” Papp said. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”
Horne was struck in the head on Dec. 2, 2012, by a boat propeller when he was thrown into the water. Another USCG member -- who was not identified -- suffered a non-life-threatening knee laceration.
Horne, a 14-year Coast Guard veteran, left behind a young son and a pregnant wife.
He and the other injured Coast Guard member were assigned to the USCG Cutter Halibut, based in Marina del Rey.
Coast Guard spokesman Adam T. Eggers said at the time that the boat that struck the Coast Guard vessel was a “Mexican-stylepanga'” traveling at a “high rate of speed.” Customs and Border Patrol and Coast Guard ships were able to chase the panga after the apparent ramming and arrested the two suspects.
The USCG Cutter Halibut had been tracking a smuggling boat off Santa Cruz Island, one of a cluster of three Channel Islands sitting off the Ventura County coast, about 30 miles west of Malibu.
A Coast Guard patrol plane had spotted the panga and another boat as it headed toward the Channel Islands without lights about 1 a.m. The Halibut was sent to Santa Cruz Island, and had arrested two people from one boat.
The Halibut crew lowered a small, inflatable chase boat into the water, and the small federal craft activated its blue lights and siren. At that point, the panga's captain changed direction and drove into the small boat.
According to federal prosecutors, a Coast Guard officer on the boat fired several shots at the panga boat while another USCG member tried to steer to federal vessel out of the panga's path.
Horne and the other Coast Guard member were thrown into the water and were immediately picked up by another federal boat. Horne was taken roughly 15 to 20 miles to the nearest dock, at Port Hueneme, where he was pronounced dead.
--City News Service