Jamiel "Jimmy" Chagra died early this morning. Here is an article from 2003 followed by a link to a photo gallery of Chagra.
December 31, 2003
Jimmy Chagra paroled
By Robert Moore and Diana Washington Valdez
Jamiel "Jimmy" Chagra, the alleged mastermind of the 1979 assassination of U.S. District Judge John Wood Jr., has been freed on parole, ending a chapter in the long-running saga of an El Paso family implicated in the federal judge's death.
"He served his time and has been paroled," Patsy Chagra, his sister in El Paso, said Tuesday. She said she has spoken to him frequently since his Dec. 9 release and said "he's fine, real happy."
Patsy Chagra said she hasn't seen her brother since his release and doesn't know where he's living. Federal officials have previously said that Jimmy Chagra wouldn't be eligible for parole until 2009.
Chagra's release couldn't be confirmed with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons because the agency has no record of his ever being in the prison system, a spokeswoman said. Officials had previously reported that Chagra had entered the witness protection program after assisting prosecutors in other cases.
Freddie Bonilla, a retired El Paso Police Department homicide investigation chief who helped crack the case, said Tuesday he heard "rumors a while back that Jimmy was out of prison, maybe in Florida, and that he was in the witness protection program ... in the program, he'll get housing and everything else he needs."
Bonilla developed the information given to the FBI that led to the conviction of the man who was hired to kill Wood and that helped find the weapon used in the murder.
Chagra, 59, was accused of leading a 1979 conspiracy to assassinate Wood, who was scheduled to preside over Chagra's trial on drug charges. Wood was gunned down outside his home in San Antonio.
Chagra was acquitted of most charges in Wood's death but was found guilty of obstructing the investigation into the slaying and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty in a failed 1978 assassination attempt on Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kerr of San Antonio and was sentenced to life in prison.
El Paso FBI spokesman Art Werge said the Chagra investigation "involved FBI agents from all the offices that were in the region working nonstop, in what was the largest manhunt ever that focused on El Paso."
Werge said it was the FBI's largest manhunt before the 1995 Oklahoma terrorist bombing.
"When this happened, the Chagras were jet-setting to Vegas," Werge said. "One of their lawyers is the (current) mayor of Las Vegas. They were high rollers."
El Paso lawyer Steve Peters, a former El Paso Times reporter who covered a 1980 federal grand jury inquiry into the judge's death in San Antonio, said, "It's ironic that the one who really caused the most trouble, who did the most harm, and was the most culpable, is the one who has been released. He's been in jail a long time. ... One can only hope that he's come to terms with what happened."
Two other members of the Chagra family went to prison in connection with the Wood slaying.
Jimmy's third wife, Elizabeth, was found guilty of delivering $250,000 to a hit man to kill Wood. She was sentenced to 30 years and died in prison in 1997 of ovarian cancer.
Her family waged an unsuccessful fight to have her released on compassionate grounds after the cancer diagnosis.
Jimmy's brother, Joe Chagra, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and served more than six years of a 10-year sentence. Joe Chagra died in a 1996 auto accident in El Paso.
The accused triggerman in the Wood killing, Charles Harrelson, was found guilty and is serving a life sentence.
Shana Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in San Antonio, which prosecuted Jimmy Chagra, said the office had no information on his status.
"If he was in witness protection, we probably wouldn't even have his alias," Jones said.
Wood was the first federal judge assassinated in the 20th century, and his killing triggered the biggest FBI investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy.
The Chagras were a prominent legal family in El Paso. But several family members were also involved in high-stakes gambling in Las Vegas and, prosecutors alleged, drug smuggling.
Lee Chagra, a lawyer and the oldest of the brothers, was shot to death in his law office in December 1978. He had been one of El Paso's best-known criminal defense lawyers and was suspected by federal agents of being involved in drug trafficking. He was never convicted on drug-related charges.
Bonilla, who is now a private investigator, arrested two Fort Bliss soldiers who were found guilty in Lee Chagra's murder. "Lou Esper, Lee's uncle, masterminded the entry into his office (on North Mesa), which was like a fortress back then, so the two soldiers could get inside," Bonilla said.
In 1994, Lee Chagra Jr., nephew of Jimmy Chagra, was convicted by a federal jury in Pittsburgh on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.
Jimmy Chagra, a professional gambler who split time between El Paso and Las Vegas, was indicted in February 1979 -- two months after his brother's death -- on federal drug-trafficking charges. His brother, Joe, served as one of his lawyers.
Wood, who was presiding over Jimmy Chagra's case, was shot to death on May 29, 1979. Suspicion quickly fell on Jimmy Chagra, but no one would be charged in the killing for almost three years.
Jimmy Chagra was convicted of the drug-related charges in August 1979 but failed to show up at a bond hearing that month and was listed as a fugitive. He was arrested six months later and sentenced to 30 years on the drug charges and five years for jumping bail.
Jimmy Chagra was indicted on murder charges April 15, 1982. Also charged with murder was Harrelson, an admitted hit man and father of actor Woody Harrelson.
Joe and Elizabeth Chagra were charged with conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice.
In the end, a jury acquitted Jimmy Chagra, the alleged mastermind of the conspiracy to kill Wood, of the murder charge. In separate trials, juries convicted Harrelson, Joe Chagra and Elizabeth Chagra on charges related to the killing.
Jimmy Chagra later pleaded guilty to the 1978 attempted killing of Kerr, the San Antonio-based prosecutor, and received a life sentence.