Seven years after the murder of a father and son on a remote gravel road southwest of Grand Forks, two men have been arrested and charged with murdering them.
According to Jason McCarthy, the assistant Grand Forks County state's attorney prosecuting the case, Joseph Moncada, 26, and Billy Jo Aguero, 30, each was arrested and charged Monday with four AA felony counts, for murder and conspiracy to commit murder, in the gun deaths Sept. 7, 2001, of Robert Belgarde, 40, and Damien Belgarde, 19, both of Grand Forks. The maximum penalty for each charge is life in prison without parole.
In one of the most dramatic and cold-blooded killings in the county's history, the bodies of the father and son were found five miles southwest of Grand Forks on a remote road next to a buffalo pasture, the apparent victims of an execution.
It's the only double homicide in the county in the memory of Sheriff Dan Hill, he said at the time of the killings.
Officials were saying very little about the arrests Monday, but it seems clear they think the killings were drug-related, based on court documents.
Robert Belgarde's body was on the gravel road; he had been shot four times in the back and arms with a 9 mm semi-automatic gun, sheriff's deputies said at the time. He also had blunt force injury to his forehead, causing a concussion, and a laceration to his face and neck.
Damien Belgarde's body was found in the ditch, next to the wire fence. He had been shot seven times in the head, neck, shoulder and back, also with a 9 mm semi-automatic gun.
It appeared he had attempted to run from the scene, which is about five miles west of Interstate 29 on the gravel extension of 32nd Avenue South.
The identical charges filed against Moncada and Aguero allege each shot both Belgardes "with a firearm several times," as well as that each conspired to kill both men.
Privately, law enforcement sources have told the Herald for a year or more that the case was basically solved, except for loose ends required for an actual arrest.
At the time of the murders, officials in the sheriff's department told the Herald the public was not in danger and that it appeared the Belgardes knew their killers.
Both Belgardes had been in trouble with the law, but investigators at the time said none of their previously known criminal activity seemed to be involved in their execution-style deaths.
The day before he was killed, Damien Belgarde had been charged with stealing a car linked to the holdup weeks before of a Grand Forks motel, according to news reports at the time. He also was a suspect in the burglary of two other motels, police said at the time.
An arrest warrant was served on Moncada near the Twin Cities, and on Aguero near San Antonio, McCarthy said. The arrests apparently went without incident, he said.
Both men have not insubstantial criminal records involving drugs and violence, in Grand Forks and elsewhere, and have spent time behind bars.
McCarthy would not say if either man was incarcerated at the time of the arrest warrants being served. According to one law enforcement source, however, Moncada was incarcerated when served with the arrest warrant Monday.
McCarthy said the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation was involved in the arrest of Moncada.
Extradited to N.D.
Both men will have to be extradited to North Dakota, McCarthy said.
Aguero's criminal record includes a 2004 federal conviction for being a felon in the possession of firearms; he was sentenced to two years in prison, to be served at the same time as a state district court sentence.
Aguero was convicted in state district court in Grand Forks in 2002 of the aggravated assault Aug. 6, 2001, of a juvenile male outside a Taco John's in Grand Forks. Arrested Aug. 6, 2001, he paid his own $5,000 cash bond to bail out on that charge Aug. 10, 2001, less than a month before the Belgardes were murdered. He jumped his bail, in fact, and later had to forfeit the $5,000 for failing to appear, according to court documents,
In late 2002, he was arrested in Texas on the 2001 assault and had to be extradited from the San Antonio area to face the charge in court; he was sentenced to five years in prison with three years suspended.
In that case, prosecutors went to court to force Aguero to give a DNA sample, which he had refused to do voluntarily, according to court records.
In 2000, Aguero was convicted of misdemeanor assault in state district court in Grand Forks and sentenced to a year in the county jail. His co-defendant in that case was Lee Avila of East Grand Forks, according to court documents.
Avila was murdered in a drug-related shooting in his East Grand Forks home in June 2005, in an incident linked to a wide federal drug crime investigation, Operation Speed Racer, that has led to more than 60 people being charged.
In Monday's court filing of the charges, Aguero is identified as Billy Joe Valdez Aguero; in other court documents, including his $5,000 bond in 2001, his signature can be seen rendered as "Billy Jo Aguero."
In 2002, Aguero gave the court an East Grand Forks address in the 1100 block of Fifth Avenue Northwest.
In 2002, Moncada was convicted in state district court in Grand Forks of possessing cocaine and marijuana with the intent to deliver, a Class A felony, and sentenced to four years in prison, with 2½ years suspended.
To face that charge, Moncada was extradited from the jail in Crookston to Grand Forks. He also spent time last year in the Tri-County Correctional Center in Crookston, a jail official said Monday.
Grand Forks County State's Attorney Peter Welte said he could not comment on the case, including whether others might be arrested in connection with it.
"This has been a cooperative effort involving both local law enforcement and the state BCI," Welte said Monday. "To preserve the integrity of the case, we're withholding any further comments until the completion of the case."
However, the charging document filed Monday gives some indication of the breadth of the investigation. The list of possible witnesses for the prosecution includes apparent relatives and friends of the Belgardes, as well as of the defendants; Aguero himself also is listed as a prosecution witness but not Moncada.
The list also includes four FBI agents, a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent, four officers in the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force, East Grand Forks Police officers and Polk County Sheriff's deputies.
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