MEXICO CITY — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked free Friday after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnap and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a brutal murder that marked a low point in U.S.-Mexican relations.
The court ruled that Caro Quintero was improperly tried in a federal court for a crime that should have been treated as a state offense. Prison officials were notified of the ruling Thursday, and an official at the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said the 61-year-old drug lord left prison before dawn Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record.
News media were not alerted until hours after the release, and it was unclear whether U.S. authorities received prior notification.
Caro Quintero still faces active charges in the United States, and Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it did not know whether there was a current extradition request.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico did not immediately comment on the release or court ruling, which came Wednesday.
Caro Quintero is considered the grandfather of Mexican drug trafficking. He established a powerful cartel based in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.
Mexico’s relations with Washington were badly damaged when Caro Quintero ordered DEA agent Enrique Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed, purportedly because he was angry about a raid on a 220-acre marijuana plantation in central Mexico that Mexican authorities had seized at Camarena’s insistence.
The raid netted up to five tons of marijuana and cost Caro Quintero and his colleagues an estimated $8 billion in lost sales.
Camarena was kidnapped on Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state and a major drug-trafficking center. His body and that of his Mexican pilot, both showing signs of torture, were found a month later, buried in shallow graves.
U.S. officials accused their Mexican counterparts of letting Camarena’s killers get away. Caro Quintero was eventually hunted down in Costa Rica.
Camarena’s fellow DEA agents consider him a hero in the war against drug trafficking, and the El Paso Intelligence Center, where U.S. federal agencies collect information about Mexican drug barons, is dedicated to him.