No verdict Monday in U.S. smuggling deaths trial

Jurors deliberated about six hours Monday without reaching a verdict in the trial of three alleged members of a ring connected to the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt.

Victor Sanchez Rodriguez, 58; his wife, Emma Sapata Rodriguez, 59; and Rosa Sarrata Gonzalez, 51, Sapata's half-sister, are accused of being part of a smuggling ring that trucked more than 70 immigrants from South Texas to Houston in May 2003. Nineteen people died due to the stifling heat in airtight trailer.

The driver, Tyrone Williams, abandoned the trailer in Victoria, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Houston. Seventeen immigrants died inside and two died later, all from dehydration, overheating and suffocation.

The jury of nine men and three women was set to resume its work Tuesday. Deliberations, which have totaled about eight hours, began late Friday afternoon.

Defense attorneys said during the two-week trial their clients were minor players who had no role in endangering the lives of the immigrants.

The three defendants, all from South Texas, had each been charged with 58 counts of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. But U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore dismissed most of the counts, citing lack of evidence.

Sarrata now faces three counts, while Sanchez and Sapata each face 20 counts, including two charges alleging they held for ransom the 3-year-old son of a Honduran woman who survived the smuggling attempt. If convicted, they could face life in prison.

The three defendants, all U.S. citizens, fled to Mexico but were eventually returned, reports AP.


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