THE MISSING PIECE

A hotheaded Border Patrol agent is the only suspect in a double slaying. One of his guns has vanished, and he's still got his job.

But the agent has evaded prosecution for the murders of Posada and Tapia.
Citing "insufficient evidence" last October, Cochise County Attorney Alan Polley decided not to seek a grand jury indictment against Martinez.

In Douglas, where tales of drug smugglers, crooked cops and violent ends are commonplace, the slayings of the popular young men have entered the realm of legend.

Across the border in Agua Prieta, many view Posada and Tapia as martyrs. Sergio Tapia's brother-in-law says that, not long after the murders, a Mexican hit man approached him with an unsolicited offer:

"He said he would assassinate Mark Martinez for us if we wanted, a freebie. It would have been easy, but what for? It's not the right thing to do.

"Even before the county attorney had declined to prosecute, Ed Posada Sr. had tacked up a sign in his tire shop. It says: "When it comes to the law, everybody is the same. Predators prefer easy prey.

"To Posada, the prey were his son and Sergio Tapia. He believes the predator was Border Patrol Agent Mark Martinez.

It's almost too much for Posada to bear. His son is dead and Martinez is somewhere in Texas, still employed by the Border Patrol.

Until a few weeks ago, Posada would sleep, usually fitfully, on a living-room couch surrounded by photographs of happier times. Playing golf and spending time with his 6-year-old son--his only surviving child--provided rare solace.

But on the frontier, trouble is never far away. On October 2, days after his interview with New Times, federal authorities arrested Posada on weapons charges. The feds allege that he bought an Uzi and a silencer from an undercover officer.

The feds say a search of Posada's tire shop and home uncovered nine other weapons, night-vision goggles and a bulletproof vest. He remains in custody, and it's uncertain what plans, if any, he had with his miniarsenal.

Even Mike Piccarreta--while reiterating Martinez's professed innocence--says he understands why some Douglas residents are calling for his client's head.

"I'd feel the same way if I was convinced Mark did it," the attorney says. "But whenever you get that close to the border, life is cheap and drugs are plentiful. There are a lot of people who do a lot of things. Mark tells me he didn't do it. And there's no proof that he did.

"According to police reports, public documents and interviews, this is what happened in the hours before and the days after the murders of Eddie Posada Jr. and Sergio Tapia:

It was Thursday night, August 4, 1994, a time to celebrate the birthdays of Eddie Posada Jr. and a buddy, Gene Arvizu.

The party started at the B&P Palace, a smoke-filled watering hole in downtown Douglas. Eddie Posada and Sergio Tapia weren't best friends, but both had grown up in the area and knew each other well.

Posada, who had just turned 23, was living with his father and grandparents at their home next to the tire shop. Father and son had been convicted of drug-related crimes--Ed Sr. years earlier on a charge of attempting to sell marijuana, and Eddie Jr. for pot possession.

But Ed Sr. says the rumors that he and his son had continued in the drug trade were false.

"Eddie was working for me at the shop, period," Posada says. "He wasn't perfect and neither am I, but making us look like major-league doper gangsters? Bullshit. We knew life is short.

"When he says that, he is not just thinking of his late son, Eddie. His second son, Serge, died of an accidental gunshot wound in 1990.

Tapia also was living with his parents, Manuel and Andrea, in Pirtleville, an unincorporated village attached to Douglas. A part-time student at Cochise College, he worked here and there to make ends meet. He also coached a girls' softball team.

Tapia's ball teams responded well to his upbeat coaching style, which stressed the importance of having fun. He was a born mimic, whose impressions of James Brown and other stars wowed all.

"Serge had done things in his life that he shouldn't have done because he's a human," says his sister Nora. "But he had another side, too. He always told me that if God took one of us, the other one should remember the good things.

"It isn't certain how well Posada and Tapia knew Mark Martinez before that August night at the B&P.

Martinez ingested the first of many Bud Lights that night sometime after 6 p.m. He spent most of the next several hours chatting with a woman who wanted to rent his home while the agent traveled to El Salvador on a three-month assignment.

Three people told police they saw Tapia and Martinez talking at the B&P. But nothing appeared amiss.

At closing time, birthday boy Gene Arvizu invited Mark Martinez to join the partyers at a popular after-hours spot in the desert just outside of town. Martinez hadn't been part of that crowd, but he accepted the invitation.

About a dozen men and women rode there in several cars. Sergio Tapia arrived in his Nissan with a female friend. Eddie Posada came with some buddies.

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