MEXICO CITY — Defense attorneys say freedom is imminent for a second member of the trio of Mexican drug kingpins responsible for the 1985 slaying of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, one of the capo’s attorneys said Saturday. In the United States, outrage grew over the surprise decision to overturn Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero’s conviction in the notorious killing.
Caro Quintero walked free Friday after a federal court overturned his 40-year sentence for agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena’s kidnapping, torture and murder. The three-judge appeals court in the western state of Jalisco ordered Caro Quintero’s immediate release on procedural grounds after 28 years behind bars, saying he should have originally been prosecuted in state instead of federal court.
Also imprisoned in the Camarena case are Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, whose cartel based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa later split into some of Mexico’s largest drug organizations.
Fonseca Carrillo’s attorney, Jose Luis Guizar, said his team had filed an appeal based on the same procedural grounds used by Caro Quintero and expected him to be freed within 15 days by a different court in Jalisco.
“At its base, the issue is the same as Rafael’s,” Guizar said.
Mexican officials did not respond to calls seeking comment Saturday.
The U.S. Justice Department said that it found the Mexican court’s decision to free Caro Quintero “deeply troubling,” but former DEA agents said they were pessimistic that the Obama administration would bring similar pressure to bear.
Nearly 20 years after the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S.-Mexico trade exceeds $1 billion a day. The two countries have worked closely against drug cartels over the past seven years, with the U.S. sending billions of dollars in equipment and training in exchange for access to Mexican law-enforcement agencies and intelligence.
The administration said little last year after Mexican federal police opened fire on a U.S. Embassy vehicle, wounding two CIA officers in one of the most serious attacks on U.S. personnel since the Camarena slaying. Twelve police officers were detained, but there is no public evidence that the United States or Mexico pursued suspicions that the shooting was a deliberate attack by corrupt police working on behalf of organized crime.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of complaints about it, but do we have a Department of Justice that’s going to stand up for this right now? I don’t think so,” said Edward Heath, who ran the DEA’s Mexico office during the Camarena killing, referring to last week’s ruling. “Everybody’s happy, businesswise.”
The Wednesday ruling remained secret for two days, the Justice Department said, with the United States learning about it Friday morning, about the same time as the news media, hours after Caro Quintero left prison.
“The retired agents that I have spoken to are extremely upset,” said Joe Gutensohn, president of the U.S. Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents. “They consider this just another slap in the face for our efforts to stem the drug trade in Mexico.”
Mexico’s attorney general said there appeared to have been a serious error in the court’s reasoning and said he would get involved in the case. He offered no specifics.