First of six defendants in brutal 2008 slayings strikes deal with state

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Alejandros Castaneda has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge for his 2008 part in what authorities allege was a murder-for-hire plot over missing drug cartel money.

In exchange for his testimony against the remaining five defendants, Castaneda pleaded guilty to intentional murder and will serve two consecutive life sentences, Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens said.

Castaneda, who originally pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder, faced the death penalty if convicted.

Alejandros Castaneda

The other defendants, all facing two counts of capital murder, are Juan Francisco Castaneda, Christopher Scott Jones, Derrick Renone Green, Torre Jovan Gholston and Jaime Duenas-Rodriguez.

Authorities allege they brutally killed five men at Cahaba Lakes apartments, located off U.S. 280, on Aug. 17, 2008 over $450,000 in missing drug cartel money.

Trial dates are expected in the summer or fall, though more defendants could follow Alejandros Castaneda’s lead and strike deals with state prosecutors.

“We’ve had serious conversations with several of the defendants’ attorneys,” Owens said. “I anticipate others will plead guilty as well.”

Owens said Jones was the group’s ringleader.

Christopher Scott Jones

“It’s our allegation that he (Jones) was the person that was essentially in charge of making these particular things occur,” Owens said.

The victims — Angel Horacio Vega-Gonzalez, 23; Gustavo Vega-Gonzalez, 24; Ezequiel Rebollar-Terevan, 23; Jaime Echverra, 30; and Armando Ibarra Mendoza, 31 — had been tied up and their throats slashed. They were also beaten and electrocuted.