Cahaba Lakes murders
- This article is about the five drug cartel executions in 2008. For the 2006 double homicide, see List of homicides in 2006.
The Cahaba Lakes murders were five gruesome homicides committed by drug couriers against members of an Atlanta-based faction of a Mexican drug cartel on August 17, 2008 at the Cahaba Lakes Apartments off U. S. Highway 280 in unincorporated Shelby County.
The bodies of the five victims were found in an otherwise sparse and thoroughly-cleaned unit on the 3000 block of Buck Horn Cove (map) on August 20. They were found with their throats cut and with evidence of brutal beatings, stabbings, suffocation and electric shocks. A massive investigation quickly identified four of the victims as Jaime Echeverra, 30; Gustavo Vega-Gonzalez (also called Armando Lopez) 24; his brother Angel Horacio Vega-Gonzalez, 23, and Ezequiel Rebollar-Terevan, 23. Armando Ibarra Mendoza, 31, was identified subsequently.
Rewards totaling $30,000 were offered for information in the case and a number of leads were generated. Investigators from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office and other local, state and federal agencies executed 24 search warrants and seized a total of 14 vehicles, 14 weapons (12 of which were assault rifles), 426 grams of methamphetamine, 20 grams of cocaine and various drug paraphernalia. Three residences and the People's Choice Barber Shop, all in Center Point, were searched.
Authorities soon identified four suspects in the killings. Brothers Alejandros and Juan Fransisco Castaneda of Birmingham, Jaime Duenas Rodriguez of San Antonio, Texas and Christopher Scott Jones of Birmingham were arrested on August 25 and each was indicted on charges of capital murder of two or more victims and capital murder for hire. Another suspect, Derrick Renone Green of Birmingham, was arrested in Nashville. In addition, Marteze Terman Radford of Birmingham was arrested and charged with hindering prosecution. All were held without bond at the Shelby County Jail. The five murder suspects all initially entered pleas of not guilty.
In September 2008 Federal agents in Atlanta, Georgia announced the arrests of 175 individuals connected to the Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Mexico after a 15-month investigation. The cartel is believed to have been operating in the Birmingham area and local investigators have said that the Shelby County slayings were, in part, the result of a feud between two factions of that cartel: the Gulf Cartel in Atlanta and "Reynosa", based in Texas.
Specifically, a source close to the investigation told the Birmingham News that the Castaneda Brothers were dealers who had taken delivery of $450,000 in cash, drugs or both from the Texas faction and transferred it to a pickup truck to be taken to another location. They were hijacked at their destination by unknown bandits, and remained responsible to the Texas gang for recovering the full amount. When the truck was recovered by authorities in Jackson County, Georgia, the Castanedas surmised that members of the Atlanta cartel had been behind the robbery. They targeted Echeverra and Rebollar-Terevan, relatives of the man leading the Atlanta group. They captured them along with the Vega-Gonzalez brothers, small-time drug runners, and commenced interrogation and torture in the Cahaba Lakes Apartment. The interrogations ended in their deaths. Mendoza, the fifth victim, is believed to have been at the complex trying to sell a car and may have been killed because he saw or heard something.
In May 2011, defendant Alejandros Castaneda pleaded guilty to intentional murder and was sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences in return for his testimony against the other five defendants. He could have faced the death penalty if found guilty on the two capital murder charges he had been indicted on. He later filed a lawsuit in support of efforts to withdraw his plea.
Alejandro's brother, Juan, also pleaded guilty and was given two concurrent life sentences. Co-defendant Jones changed his plea to guilty in October 2011 and was given two concurrent 25-year sentences. He served his sentence at the St Clair Correctional Facility and was charged with the murder of another inmate, Steven Eric Mullins, in 2019. Gholston pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in January 2012 and received a 15-year sentence.
- Daniels, Malcomb and Nancy Wilstach (September 15, 2008) "Four indicted in Shelby County slayings of five." Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (September 18, 2008) "175 arrested in U.S. and Italy in connection with violent Mexican cartel with ties to the slaying of five men in Shelby County." Birmingham News
- Nance, Rahkia (February 13, 2009) "Sixth man charged in Shelby slayings of 5." Birmingham News
- "Grisly slayings, including five killed in Shelby County, bring Mexican drug war to US." (April 19, 2009) Birmingham News
- Cassandra Mickens. (April 29, 2009). "Suspect in apartment slayings pleads not guilty." Shelby County Reporter.
- Gaskins, Brad. (May 25, 2011). "First of six defendants in brutal 2008 slayings strikes deal with state." Shelby County Reporter
- Daniels, Malcomb (October 28, 2011) "One of six charged in 2008 apartment slayings pleads guilty before Monday trial." Birmingham News
- Daniels, Malcomb (January 19, 2012) "A fourth defendant in Shelby County 280 apartment slayings has pleaded guilty." Birmingham News