Two Mexican nationals arrested in 2012 for ramming a Coast Guard boat near the Santa Barbara Channel Islands and fatally injuring Senior Chief Officer Terrell Horne in the collision have been found guilty by a Los Angeles jury on a number of federal charges.
Jose Meija-Leyva, 42, of Ensenada, was convicted of murder and assaulting federal officers with a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of life in U.S. prison when he’s sentenced in May. Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 44, of Ensenada, was found guilty of assault and acting as an accessory. He faces a maximum of 60 years. The trial lasted seven days. Horne, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident, was the first Coast Guard officer murdered while on duty since 1927.
“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne’s death will be held accountable,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard, in a prepared statement. “While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne’s killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”
At around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 1, 2012, a Coast Guard patrol plane located a panga boat floating in Smuggler’s Cove off Santa Cruz Island. The Coast Guard cutter Halibut, with Horne on board, moved to investigate the 30-foot open craft, a fast, lightweight type of boat that Mexican drug-runners often use to sneak marijuana and migrants into California. The Halibut launched its 21-foot rigid-hull inflatable manned by Horne and three other crewmembers and ordered the panga’s passengers—Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera—to stop and raise their hands.
Instead, Meija-Leyva throttled the panga’s engines, veered straight toward the small Coast Guard boat, and slammed into it. Horne was thrown overboard and struck in the head by a propeller. The crew administered first aid and rushed back to the Halibut, which sped to Port Hueneme in Ventura County, but Horne was pronounced dead on arrival.
Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera sped away and were eventually intercepted 20 miles north of the Mexican border. During initial statements given to investigators, Beltran-Higuera said he had been approached by a man in Baja California offering to pay him $3,000 to bring a load of fuel to an awaiting panga boat in the U.S. Meija-Leyva told officials he was taking gas to friends lost north of Los Angeles.