Key Figure In Judge’s Murder In Witness Protection


Jamiel “Jimmy” Chagra, a gambler and drug kingpin called the paymaster for the murder of federal judge John Wood, is out of prison, apparently in the federal witness-protection program. The Dallas Morning News says that, “Once the subject of screaming headlines across the nation, he slipped into obscurity with little notice.”

Those who remember what the FBI called the crime of the century recall actor Woody Harrelson’s efforts to get a new trial for his father, convicted hit man Charles Harrelson. Chagra’s role is largely forgotten. “The failure of remembrance in the Wood case may be regrettable, but it’s normal. Some call it collective forgetting. Some call it historical ignorance. It shows what 20 years will do to a benchmark event in a community,” said sociologist Michael Kearl of Trinity University in San Antonio. “Judge Wood’s name is emblazoned on the federal courthouse and very few people can tell you why. In the scale of 3,000-plus names at the World Trade Center, what is the name of one federal judge?”

Noting the absence of information about Chagra’s release, criminologist Michael Gilbert of the University of Texas at San Antonio said, “The feds aren’t going to advertise that someone is in witness protection…Law enforcement must sometimes make deals with people they don’t want to deal with. But it’s a strategy that works.”

Wood’s murder sent shock waves throughout the criminal justice world. It was the first assassination of a federal judge in a century. The federal was quick and overwhelming. It focused on Chagra, who was facing trial before Wood as kingpin of a heroin and marijuana trafficking operation from El Paso and South Florida. When the first indictments came down in 1982, the FBI had conducted more than 30,000 interviews and collected more than 500,000 pieces of information. The investigation cost more than $11 million, at the time the most extensive in the bureau’s history. It was surpassed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 1995 destruction of the Oklahoma City federal building.


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