US law enforcement officials expressed outrage over the release from prison of Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero and vowed to continue efforts to bring to justice the man who ordered the killing of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.
Quintero was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, but a Mexican federal court ordered his release this week, saying he had been improperly tried in a federal court for state crimes.
The 60-year-old walked out of a prison in Jalisco State early on Friday, after serving 28 years of his sentence.
The US Department of Justice said it found the court’s decision “deeply troubling.”
“The Department of Justice, and especially the Drug Enforcement Administration, is extremely disappointed with this result,” it said in a statement.
The Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents in the US said it was “outraged” by Quintero’s early release and it blamed corruption within Mexico’s justice system for his early release.
“The release of this violent butcher is but another example of how good faith efforts by the US to work with the Mexican government can be frustrated by those powerful dark forces that work in the shadows of the Mexican ‘justice’ system,” the organization said in a statement.
The DEA said it “will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed.”
Experts say the case against Quintero was flawed from the beginning and his release is the result of a stronger federal justice system in Mexico, and is not likely to have an impact in US-Mexico relations.
Quintero was a founding member of one of Mexico’s earliest and biggest drug cartels. He helped establish a powerful cartel based in Sinaloa State that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.
He was not tried for drug trafficking, a federal crime in Mexico. Instead, Mexican federal prosecutors, under intense pressure from the US, hastily put together a case against him for Camarena’s kidnapping and killing, both state crimes.
“What we are seeing here is a contradiction between the need of the government to keep dangerous criminals behind bars and its respect of due process,” said Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
Mexican courts and prosecutors have long tolerated illicit evidence, such as forced confessions, and have frequently based cases on questionable testimony or hearsay. Such practices have been banned by recent judicial reforms, but past cases, including those against high-level drug traffickers, are often rife with such legal violations.
Mexico’s relations with Washington were badly damaged when Quintero ordered Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed, purportedly because he was angry about a raid on an 89 hectare marijuana plantation in central Mexico named Rancho Bufalo (Buffalo Ranch) that was seized by Mexican authorities at Camarena’s insistence.
Camarena was kidnapped in Guadalajara, a major drug trafficking center at the time. His body and that of his Mexican pilot, both showing signs of torture, were found a month later, buried in shallow graves. US officials accused their Mexican counterparts of letting Camarena’s killers get away. Quintero was eventually hunted down in Costa Rica.