August 19, 2008 - 7:32PM
McALLEN - An alleged gang member who pleaded guilty to shooting a federal agent in 2005 is too mentally disturbed to serve time in a regular prison, his attorney said Tuesday.
Leobardo Villarreal, 25, had already been diagnosed as moderately retarded before he shot U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Maria Olga Ochoa during a carjacking attempt March 5, 2005.
But his condition has severely deteriorated since his arrest, attorney Mauro Barreiro said.
"If he's not legally competent to serve his sentence, they have to place him in a facility that can treat him," he said.
Prosecutors allege Villarreal, a purported member of the Hermanos Pistoleros gang, attacked Ochoa while he was working as a lookout for drug smugglers trying to hustle 700 pounds of marijuana through Bentsen State Park.
On orders from another man, Villarreal approached Ochoa's unmarked vehicle near the intersection of Breyfogle Road and Business 83 in Peñitas, tapped his gun against the window and then shot through the door hitting her in the foot, according to a criminal complaint filed in his case.
Upon his arrest, Villarreal was placed in an isolated unit and the stress of confinement quickly began to take its toll on him, Barreiro said.
About six months later, in September 2005, Villarreal cut open his arm in what his attorney describes as a suicide attempt. But while being transported to McAllen Medical Center to treat the wound, the gang member struck U.S. Marshals and managed to escape from his ambulance.
He fled across Expressway 83, carjacked a vehicle and managed to elude recapture for more than six months. He was eventually arrested in Lopezville in March 2006, after his case was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted."
While investigators maintain the suicide attempt was a calculated move to break out of custody, Barreiro believes his client was so emotionally disturbed by the conditions of his confinement that he was willing to do anything to get out.
"They put him in isolation...," he said. "I suspect that's causing a lot of his problems."
During a competency hearing Tuesday, Barreiro asked U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa to consider placing Villarreal in a facility equipped to handle psychiatric care.
In the past several months, the gang member reported that he has begun talking to himself and seeing gargoyles in his cell, according to court documents.
Barreiro also maintains that his client's troubled family life and history of mental problems should play a factor in the sentencing decision. A second-generation gang member, Villarreal grew up without a father and has been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
"His whole family is dysfunctional," he said. "They suffer from every setback possible."
On Tuesday, Hinojosa said he would decide which role Villarreal's mental condition should play in his sentencing during a hearing scheduled for Aug. 27.
Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.