With a smirk on his face, a Laredo man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the kidnapping and murder of a 22-year-old Brownsville resident.
Abraham Parra, 25, received an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole on a charge of capital murder and 50 years in prison for aggravated kidnapping.
He is one of nine men charged in the July 2012 abduction and killing of Reyes Bocanegra. Parra is the first to go on trial.
Bocanegra was kidnapped from his restaurant, Mariscos Playa Azul, at 12 p.m. on July 18, 2012. Five men entered the small restaurant on Military Highway in west Brownsville and tied up customers and staff.
Surveillance video shows Bocanegra being forced out the restaurant’s back door with Parra leading the way. Bocanegra’s body was found a short time later on Roberta Road, north of Rancho Viejo, with a single
bullet wound to the back of his head.
The jury began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon and returned a verdict shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday. After being sentenced to life without parole, Parra opted to have the jury sentence him on the aggravated kidnapping conviction.
State prosecutor Gustavo “Gus” Garza asked the jury to sentence Parra to 99 years on the conviction.
“We are not going to accept this level of disrespect,” Garza told the jurors. “I want to say it louder; 99 years.”
Garza said that although there is information that Bocanegra was involved in criminal activity, the victim still deserved due process.
“Just take him out and shoot him like a dog and leave him in the middle of the street. That’s what they did,” Garza said. “We need to put a stop to it one crime at a time; one criminal at a time; one convict at a time. That’s the only way Cameron County will have peace and tranquility.”
Garza said the verdict sends a message to criminals on both sides of the Rio Grande. The punishment is more important than the verdict because that message resonates “if it’s loud enough,” Garza said, asking the jury to sentence Parra to 99 years.
But defense attorney Nat C. Perez said no message would be sent to anyone because murders in the Rio Grande Valley will continue to happen and getting a harsh sentence written about in the newspaper does nothing.
“I really wish I lived in Mr. Garza’s world. No message is coming out of this courtroom,” he said, asking the jury to realize that Parra is spending the rest of his life in prison and sentencing him to 99 years on the aggravated kidnapping charge doesn’t do anything.
Parra did not have the gun, Perez said, adding that the message that is being sent is if the punishment is the same for everyone involved in the commission of a crime, they might as well all have guns since they are all going to be treated the same.
“He was not the one with the gun. He was not in charge,” Perez said.
But Garza was adamant that the sentence and conviction sends a message that Cameron County is not going to tolerate criminal behavior, especially in a case as serious as this one.
“This is the first one in that long list,” Garza said, pointing at Parra.
After Parra was escorted out of the courtroom, Garza told a reporter he intends to take each of the remaining suspects to trial.
In the meantime, Parra has already filed a notice of appeal, Perez said, saying the 40-minute gap between the restaurant and where Bocaengra’s body was found is important.
And because of that gap, Perez said he was surprised at the capital murder verdict.
“I felt very strongly that no evidence showed what happened,” he said. “Clearly, the evidence shows there were at least one or two vehicles. Who went where? What gun was used? There are so many things that could have happened.”
Perez said Parra was calm after the verdict and has entrusted his fate to God’s will.