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Suspect testifies informant begged for his life

Brian Roger, Houston Chronicle
Updated 12:03 am, Friday, February 14, 2014

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  • Alfred Gomez is the first of five men arrested in the November 2011 shooting death of Lawrence Chapa, who had been a police drug informant, to go on trial. Photo: Johnny Hanson / Houston Chronicle
    Alfred Gomez is the first of five men arrested in the November 2011 shooting death of Lawrence Chapa, who had been a police drug informant, to go on trial. Photo: Johnny Hanson

 

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Police informant Lawrence Chapa begged for his life as he scurried into the sleeper section of his 18-wheeler. He tried to hide from the two gunmen who had opened the driver's side and passenger doors and were shouting at him to get out.

Moments later, the 53-year-old was killed in a hail of gunfire, shot at least eight times by two different guns.

"He panicked, started talking about his family and said he didn't want anything to happen," one of the alleged gunmen calmly testified Thursday. "He was petrified."

In an orange jail uniform, Fernando Tavera detailed the Nov. 21, 2011, shooting that he said was just supposed to be the robbery of a tractor-trailer full of marijuana.

It turned into a gunbattle when local police and federal agents who were watching the truck drove up and started shooting, too.

The scene was so chaotic, a Houston police officer shot an undercover Harris County Sheriff's deputy in the leg.

Tavera, 21, who was arrested at the scene, spent most of Thursday testifying against Alfredo Gomez, 21, with hopes for leniency.

Both men are charged with capital murder. Gomez was arrested days after the gunbattle and, Tavera said, was the only person who shot Chapa.

Tavera told jurors that he climbed up in the cab while pointing a gun at Chapa, then lost his footing and fell.

When he hit the ground, Tavera said, his gun went off and he heard other gunshots in the cab.

It was a story that made lawyers for Gomez scoff.

"You fired that gun and the blast knocked you back, didn't it," attorney Casey Keirnan asked.

"No," Tavera said.

Tavera said he ran to the other side of the truck to find Gomez "frozen" kneeling on the passenger seat, smoking gun still pointed at Chapa's body.

"He was stuck on freeze," Tavera said.

Arrests at the scene

Moments later, the scene was swarmed by law enforcement, and Tavera was hit by two police cars as he allegedly tried to flee with his gun.

Police arrested him along with Eric Deluna, 25, Rolando Resendiz, 30, and Ricardo Ramirez, 37.

Hoping for leniency

Lawyers for Gomez have said the four men, while in a jail cell together, decided to tell investigators Gomez, who was not caught at the scene, was the shooter in an effort to cut a deal.

While being questioned by prosecutor Lauren Byrne, Tavera said he hopes his capital murder charge, which would land him in prison for life without parole, will be lowered in exchange for testifying. He said he does not have a deal or even a promise of leniency.

He also said he was angry at Gomez for shooting Chapa because it landed them both behind bars.

"When he pulled the trigger, he didn't care about anybody else," Tavera said.

Tavera said he expected to make $1,000 on the robbery, which he planned to use for his daughter's first birthday party.

"Now she's 3 years old," he said on the stand.

Gomez faces an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted.

The trial, in visiting Judge Terry Flenniken's court, is expected to last into next week.