Moncada, Aguero guilty of murder

After deliberating for 12 hours over the course of two days, a jury found Joseph Moncada and Billy Joe Aguero guilty of murdering a Grand Forks father and son more than seven years ago.

Moncada and Aguero
Joseph Moncada (left) and Billy Joe Aguero take in trial proceedings in Grand Forks County Courthouse. Herald file photos.

After deliberating for 12 hours over the course of two days, a jury found Joseph Moncada and Billy Joe Aguero guilty of murdering a Grand Forks father and son more than seven years ago.

The defendants stood stoically and the victims' family sobbed quietly as Judge Lawrence Jahnke of state District Court read the verdicts Thursday.

Moncada, 26, and Aguero, 31, each faced two counts of murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder.

The defense attorneys asked the clerk of court to poll the jurors, a process that took about 10 minutes as each juror confirmed the eight guilty verdicts.

A few members of the jury -- made up of eight women and four men -- cried during the proceeding. One woman dabbed her eyes with a tissue.


The jury deliberated from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. Wednesday and from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The jurors had more than 120 evidence exhibits and five days of testimony to mull over. The judge thanked them for giving up "nine days of their lives."

Acquittal denied

Moncada's attorney, Robert Martin, asked the judge to acquit his client on the murder charges, citing prosecutorial evidence that showed the same gun was used to kill Robert Belgarde and his son, Damien.

"Two people cannot pull the same trigger on the same people at the same time," said Martin, a public defender from Minot.

Aguero's attorney, David Dusek of East Grand Forks, followed suit.

"The state did say they could not prove who pulled the trigger," Dusek said.

Jahnke immediately denied both requests, saying the evidence backed up the verdicts.

In a rare move, Jahnke left in place a gag order forbidding attorneys from talking about the case until after sentencing, which set was for Aug. 7.


The charges against Moncada and Aguero are all Class AA felonies with maximum penalties of life in prison. They are being held without bail at the Grand Forks County jail.

In August, the county issued warrants for the arrest of Aguero, who was living in San Antonio, and Moncada, who was doing time in Rush City, Minn., on a drug-related conviction.

'Really happy'

Through a representative, relatives of the victims declined to comment on the verdicts. However, one man who did not identify himself spoke briefly with the Herald.

"We're just really happy that they're guilty of the charges," he said.

During the trial, witnesses testified that Robert Belgarde, 40, and Damien Belgarde, 19, were shot over a drug debt. Their bodies were found the night of Sept. 7, 2001, southwest of Grand Forks near the end of the gravel extension of 32nd Avenue South.

Defense attorneys argued that another man shot the Belgardes. Neither Moncada nor Aguero took the stand in their own defense.

Prosecutors Jason McCarthy and David Jones called witnesses who said Aguero and Moncada told them they killed the Belgardes. The prosecution coupled that testimony with physical evidence to make their case.


Key evidence included a partially-smoked cigarette and the neck of a broken beer bottle recovered at the crime scene. Moncada could not be excluded as the source of DNA found on cigarette and ditto for Aguero when it came to the bottleneck.

Martin argued that a cigarette butt, smoked earlier by Moncada and left on the messy floor of the car driven to the scene, could have been kicked out of the vehicle or dragged out on someone's shoe. Dusek said Aguero could have taken a drink from the bottle before it was taken to the scene.

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