Criminal Justice

Accused Ringleader in 1979 Murder of Federal Judge Dies of Cancer

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A convicted drug dealer who was accused but acquitted of most charges in the 1979 assassination of a federal judge has died. Jamiel Alexander “Jimmy” Chagra, 63, died Friday of cancer in Mesa, Ariz., where he was reportedly living with his wife under an assumed name.

Acquitted on murder charges, Chagra was sentenced to 10 years for obstructing the investigation into the assassination of U.S. District Judge John Wood Jr., who was shot in the back with a high-powered rifle on May 29, 1979 outside his home in San Antonio. “He later pleaded guilty to participating in a failed 1978 attempt to kill a federal prosecutor in San Antonio,” reports the Washington Post.

Wood, who was known as “Maximum John” because of his hefty sentences, had been scheduled to preside over Chagra’s trial on drug charges. Sentenced to 30 years by another judge after being convicted, Chagra was released from prison on parole in 2003.

Jimmy Chagra’s family included an older brother, Lee, who became a flamboyant El Paso, Texas, lawyer after graduating at the top of his law school class at the University of Texas, but was murdered at his law office in 1978; and a younger brother, Joe, who also was an El Paso lawyer. Joe Chagra served 6 1/2 years in prison for his claimed role in Wood’s murder, and subsequently died in an auto accident in 1996, the Post writes in a lengthy obituary.

“We were a good family—that’s what people forget,” Joe Chagra told Gary Cartwright, a Texas writer, before his death. “But the real downfall of our family was the money. You can’t know what it does until it happens to you … until everyone is chin-deep in millions.”

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