Here's an excerpt from the Department of Justice press release:
"Julian Zapata Espinoza, also known as “Piolin,” 32, pleaded guilty today to the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila in Mexico. The court also unsealed today the guilty pleas of three other defendants on related murder, attempted murder, racketeering, and accessory charges... As set forth in court filings, on February 15, 2011, Espinoza, a commander in Los Zetas Cartel, a heavily armed Mexican narco-trafficking cartel and transnational criminal organization, attempted to hijack Special Agent Zapata’s and Special Agent Avila’s armored government vehicle as the agents were driving on Highway 57 in San Luis Potosi. Two armed Zetas hit squads, or “estacas,” forced the agents off the road, and surrounded their vehicle. Espinoza, the leader of the attack, ordered the agents to exit their vehicle. When the agents refused and attempted to identify themselves as American diplomats from the U.S. Embassy, the hit squad members fired weapons near and into the vehicle, striking both agents. Estaca members continued to fire at the vehicle as the agents attempted to escape by driving away. Special Agent Zapata died as a result of the gunshot wounds he suffered during the attack, and Special Agent Avila was seriously injured... As part of their guilty pleas, Espinoza, Rivera, and Villagran admitted to being members of a Los Zetas hit squad and to participating directly in the February 15, 2011 ambush of the two special agents. The fourth defendant, Flores, acknowledged assisting Zetas members after the February 15 attack. All four defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison. No sentencing date has been set for the defendants." Link to Full Press Release
Analysis: Part of me wants to be happy and relieved that justice has finally been served, and that these Zetas scum are being held accountable for actions the likely took thinking no one could touch them. Another [cynical] side of me wishes I could get a comprehensive summary of the evidence (hopefully) piled against these men that encouraged them to accept a plea deal.
According to a Brownsville Herald article from last year that talked about El Piolin's hearing getting pushed back to September 2012, "authorities reported to have turned over thousands of pages of discovery for the trial and that thousands more are being processed." I'd like to think all those pages means that there are ample reports from investigators, forensic specialists, crime scene examiners, etc. However, remember that this investigation was conducted in Mexico by mostly Mexican authorities with some US assistance that happened after the fact.
That being said, El Piolin and company already knew they wouldn't get the death sentence by the mere fact that the Mexican government agreed to extradite them. Mexico is very much against the death sentence, and this is a strict condition for extradition of any criminal indicted in the US. They still face a maximum of life in prison, so the obvious thing they would have to gain from a plea deal is a reduced sentence in exchange for providing actionable intelligence on Zetas operations, most likely in the San Luís Potosí area where these men operated.
Does this mean these are actually the men responsible for pulling the trigger and setting up Agents Zapata and Avila? Maybe, maybe not. El Piolin has said up and down that he thought Zapata and Avila were members of a rival cartel, which is patent bullcrap. Could these men have just been fall guys ordered by Los Zetas to take one for the team? That's possible, too. Will their plea deal and subsequent incarceration bring some closure to the Zapata family, ICE, and DHS? Only they can say.
It's possible I'm just too cynical for my own good, and this really is a good news story. But my spidey sense still tells me that these men were captured too quickly, too easily, and 'fessed up too smoothly. This is definitely one of those [rare] times where I hope I'm wrong.