By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - A man found in possession of nearly 200 pounds of marijuana pleaded guilty to felony drug charges.
Juan Gomez Garza, 38, opted to plead guilty Monday afternoon after a jury had been picked and his trial was about to begin. The prosecution had just read his indictment and was about to open its case with witness testimony.
Assistant Bell County District Attorney Stephanie Newell said Garza's sentence was capped at 10 years. He will be sentenced May 23.
A co-defendant, 45-year-old Benito Elizondo-Vasquez, previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the same charge, possession of marijuana 50 pounds or more but less than 2,000 pounds.
A Troy Police Department officer arrested Garza and Elizondo-Vasquez July 8 during a late-night traffic stop on Interstate 35 near mile marker 311 for an inoperative rear license plate light.
According to an arrest affidavit, the two men said they were on their way from Edinburg to Dallas for work. The officer became suspicious after he observed no work clothes or tools in the car.
The officer also wrote in the report Garza and Elizondo-Vasquez acted suspiciously and made stealthy gestures toward each other.
After getting consent to search the vehicle, an officer located three cellophane-wrapped bails of suspected marijuana. When asked what was in the bails, Elizondo-Vasquez replied "weed," the report states. The total weight of marijuana seized during the arrest was 194 pounds, Newell said.
Garza's defense attorney said Friday Elizondo-Vasquez had admitted to being solely responsible for possessing and transporting the large quantity of marijuana.
However, Newell said Tuesday Elizondo-Vasquez had written a letter indicating his lone culpability only after he pleaded guilty to the offense.
He later told prosecutors he only wrote the letter to protect Garza, who is his brother-in-law. Newell could not say if the marijuana bust was the biggest one in the county, but it was the largest in recent memory.