McALLEN — Witness testimony during the trial of the man accused of masterminding the kidnapping of a University of Texas-Pan American student points to a possible drug debt with Mexican cocaine smugglers as a motive.
Tuesday morning, jurors began hearing the evidence against Miguel Navarro, who is facing two counts of hostage taking for his role in the Sept. 25 kidnapping of 28-year-old UTPA student Ana Elizondo.
If convicted, Navarro could be sentenced to serve life in prison.
Milton Leonel Treviño and Onan Herrera Sanchez, the two other men tied to the kidnapping, pleaded guilty last year and are expected to testify against Navarro on Wednesday.
During her opening arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Requenez said that Navarro needed about $150,000 in order to open a liquor store drive-thru and Elizondo’s money proved too much temptation. The victim’s father Jorge Elizondo had made his money as the owner of a supermarket and a meat market in Reynosa, the prosecutor said.
However, defense attorney Michael Garza questioned Elizondo about a statement made to her by Treviño in which he told her that they had kidnapped her because her father had stolen a cocaine load from drug traffickers in Mexico.
Elizondo said that the comment had been made and she had been shocked to hear that.
Jorge Elizondo is expected to testify Wednesday, it remains unclear whether questions about the cocaine allegations will be brought up.
In addition to a drug vendetta as a motive, jurors also heard a second motive dealing with Elizondo’s wealth, which came from their store in Reynosa.
Wearing a black, long-sleeve shirt, messy hair and low-rise pants, a condescending Jorge Elizondo Jr. — the victim’s brother — took the stand and testified that in February 2012 he had spoken with Navarro on four separate occasions and had boasted about his fortune.
The 24-year-old man told Requenez that he still lives at home and his father goes to Mexico every day to work at the family business in order to pay for his expenses, including his luxury sedan.
In regards to the conversation with Navarro, Jorge Elizondo Jr. said that he told him about his two sisters, where they worked and that their family was well off, but neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys mentioned how the two men met.
Elizondo and Navarro had met while sharing a jail cell. State court records show that during their conversation Feb. 13, 2012, Elizondo was being held over a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge to which he pleaded guilty.
According to Requenez, it was during those conversations that Navarro got the idea of where to get quick money.
The day of the abduction had started off as a regular day for Ana Elizondo, who was pursuing a master’s degree in psychology at UTPA while also working full time as a barista at Starbucks. Elizondo had gone to school to take a test but had been battling a severe throat infection, and after feeling faint she decided to leave so that her family could take her to a doctor in Reynosa, she said during her testimony.
As Elizondo approached her 2011 black Mercedes, Herrera Sanchez came up from behind, placing a hand over her mouth, and dragged her into a silver Chrysler Sebring.
“He pulled me in, I was swinging my arms and kicking the dashboard,” she said. “He was much bigger than me. He told me to calm down, that he didn’t want to hit me.”
A student leaving class saw the kidnapping and called police.
After switching cars three different times, the men took Elizondo toward the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, where they were supposed to cross her into Mexico, but they got paranoid when they noticed authorities were checking cars, Elizondo said.
Throughout the ordeal, the petite woman said, she feared getting raped by the men, but she refused to show any weakness and instead fell back on her psychology schooling, joking around with the men in an effort to put them at ease.
“That’s my way of coping with fear,” Elizondo said. “I didn’t want them to know I was scared.”
With their trip to Mexico forfeited, the men drugged the woman and took her to a house in Mission where they had her spend the night until they could decide their next step. It was during that time that Treviño made a series of sexual advances that caused Elizondo to fear that she would be raped as soon as the drugs caused her to lose consciousness.
The next morning Elizondo woke up fully clothed and unharmed, but she then was rushed to some mud pits in Pharr where Herrera told her that she was all over the news and needed to make the police go away.
Following their orders, Elizondo called the UTPA Police Department to give them a false story about her running off with her boyfriend, but she had to wait for some time because she was put on hold, she said.
Once a detective picked up and she told him her story, he told her to say the word “blue” if she was in danger, Elizondo testified. After some hesitation, she did.
Once the call was made, Elizondo ended up back in the Mission home, where Treviño’s mother, Norma, and her son, Santos, introduced themselves and promised to help her.
Santos told the girl that he wasn’t involved in the kidnapping and was just trying to help his brother and to please help him fix things, Elizondo said.
“‘Mija, don’t worry. My boys will save you,’” Elizondo said, quoting Norma at the moment that the mother lovingly grabbed the younger woman’s cheeks while discussing the rescue.
Santos told Elizondo to tell her family and authorities that she had been blindfolded and tied to a chair but had been rescued by Treviño and Santos, who had broken into the house looking things to steal, and they would tell Navarro that she had managed to escape.
“I had asked Milton (Treviño) who Tio Mike (Navarro) was, and he said he was a mean man who wanted to kill me,” Elizondo testified.
Using a prepaid telephone, Norma called Elizondo’s mother and had an intense conversation but persuaded them to go to the Mission home to pick up their daughter.
“I remember her saying: ‘No (Spanish expletive), I know this is your husband’s fault. Come pick her up now,” Elizondo testified.
Michael Garza, Navarro’s defense attorney, accused Elizondo of protecting Treviño by placing the blame on Navarro, when in fact both Treviño and his mother knew a lot about the Elizondos’ finances and alleged drug deals, the attorney said.
Testimony was expected to resume this morning.