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Trial starts in 2008 death tied to cartel

Not long after Danny Baca was gunned down with an assault rifle and set on fire on the Pajarito Mesa in January 2008, authorities said a Mexican cartel was sending a message.

Jaime Veleta

Eleven years later, Jaime Veleta, the man prosecutors say was the “shot caller” in Baca’s execution is on trial for murder and lesser charges.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office investigators said in 2009 that Baca had been tasked with transporting a carload of marijuana and possibly cocaine from Mexico to El Paso, but he instead headed to Albuquerque.

When Veleta and others showed up at his home in the East Mountains looking for the missing drugs, prosecutors say, Baca took them to a shed where the empty car was parked.

Not long after that, Baca was driven out to the Pajarito Mesa by Veleta and Jose and Mario Talavera and killed.

“It’s dark and they turn down a desolate dirt road with no real development to the left or to the right. It’s barren,” prosecutor Shonnetta Estrada told the jury in her opening statement Tuesday in state District Court. “The perfect spot for an execution.”

Veleta was the first person out of the vehicle, and moments after Baca stepped out “he’s mowed down by a barrage of bullets coming from Jaime Veleta’s assault rifle.”

Jose and Mario Talavera, two cousins convicted in the case, are serving 15 and 11 year sentences, respectively.

Jose is expected to testify.

Defense attorney Edward Bustamante said his client, the so-called shot caller, was actually an El Paso father who supported his children with his McDonald’s paychecks.

This is a “two-witness case,” Bustamante said, and those two witnesses lack credibility.

“You’re going to say, ‘Look I cannot trust those two witnesses, because they have a million reasons to lie, to exaggerate, to shift blame.'” Bustamante said during his opening statement.

In 2009, then-Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said Baca “signed his own death warrant” when he bypassed El Paso and brought the drugs to Albuquerque.

“They wanted to make sure everybody knew you don’t mess with the cartel,” White said then. “This was a very clear message they were sending.”

Prosecutors say Veleta was dropped off at a bus station soon after the homicide.

He remained at large for years, and was included on the U.S. Marshals Service’s most wanted list for New Mexico. Veleta was extradited from Mexico in September 2018.

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