HOUSTON – Jurors in the first trial connected to the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt were to resume deliberating the fate of two men on Monday.
Victor Jesus Rodriguez (search) and Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar (search) are accused of taking part in a smuggling ring that prosecutors say packed more than 70 illegal immigrants into a hot, airless tractor-trailer and tried to take them from South Texas to Houston in May 2003.
The trailer was abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston, after the immigrants began succumbing to the deadly heat. Seventeen immigrants were found dead inside the trailer. Two died later.
Jurors got the case late Thursday after closing arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about an hour before stopping and took Friday off. The trial began in late November.
Each man faces 58 counts of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. If convicted, each could get up to life in prison.
Defense attorneys for Rodriguez, 38, and Garcia-Tobar, 25, say their clients either did not have direct responsibility for putting the immigrants in the trailer or were accused by unreliable witnesses.
Garcia-Tobar, from Guatemala, is accused of helping load illegal immigrants into trailers or transport them to loading sites and of helping recruit truckers to haul them.
Rodriguez is accused of picking up several immigrants who had arranged with his parents to be smuggled and taken to a house belonging to his father.
The judge dismissed charges Thursday against Claudia Carrizales de Villa, 36, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the case against her. Prosecutors said they are reviewing all legal options in her case. Lawyers for Carrizales, from Mexico, are waiting to see if she will be deported.
Tyrone Williams (search), from Schenectady, N.Y., is the only one of 14 defendants indicted in the case who could face the death penalty if convicted. Authorities say he drove and abandoned the trailer. His trial is set to begin Jan. 5.
His attorney is accusing the federal government of seeking the death penalty because his client is black.
The trial of another defendant is on hold. Five others previously pleaded guilty. Four were arrested in Mexico and face trial there, including Rodriguez's parents.