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Second of Three Defendants Convicted in Camarena Slaying

September 27, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A Mexican drug trafficker tied to a murder by a strand of hair became the second of three defendants to be convicted in the 1985 torture killing of a U.S. drug agent in Mexico.

Rene Verdugo Urquidez, portrayed by prosecutors as the chief lieutenant of reputed Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, was found guilty Monday by a jury that deliberated four days.

The panel was to return today to deliberate further on the third defendant’s guilt or innocence.

The remaining defendant, Jesus Felix Gutierrez, the 38-year-old former owner of a Los Angeles seafood company, is charged with aiding and abetting Caro in his escape to Costa Rica after the killing of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena and his pilot, Alfred Zavala Avelar.

Verdugo, 36, was convicted of five counts of conspiracy, kidnapping, murder and two counts of violent acts in support of racketeering. The latter charge is a new statute aimed at drug-related crimes.

The battered bodies of Camarena and his pilot were found buried at a remote ranch outside Guadalajara in March 1985, nearly a month after Camarena was kidnapped outside the U.S. Consulate in the Mexican city.

The only physical evidence against Verdugo was a single strand of hair found at Caro’s Guadalajara compound, where Camarena is believed to have been killed.

Circumstantial evidence came from government informants, including other drug smugglers who said they heard Verdugo discuss the Camarena killing.

One witness who made a plea bargain with the government told of seeing Verdugo at the villa the day of the murder. He said Verdugo spoke with another man about ″a problem″ they had just solved.

Verdugo could be sentenced to life in prison. Sentencing was set for Oct. 26.

The federal jury convicted former Mexican policeman Raul Lopez Alvarez in the murders on Thursday.

Verdugo, an admitted drug trafficker, and his attorneys sighed when U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie read the first guilty verdict.

Defense attorney Michael Pancer portrayed Verdugo as a pawn in a political game played by the Mexican and U.S. governments. He said Verdugo was sacrificed to close an embarassing case that had strained relations between the two countries.

″Rene is innocent,″ Pancer told reporters. ″They flat-out fooled this jury.″

Prosecutors witheld comment until after jurors return the last verdict. Prosecutors contend Caro ordered the killings as retribution for Camarena’s role in raids on Caro’s marijuana plantations. They said that Verdugo helped in the executions.

Evidence showed the agent and pilot were tortured with red-hot metal pipes and beaten so severely that Camarena’s skull was crushed.

Lopez, 28, was a member of a Mexican state police homicide squad in Guadalajara at the time. His sentencing was set for Oct. 24.

Caro, 37, and an associate, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, were convicted in Mexico last week on narcotics and weapons charges. Caro was sentenced to 34 years and Fonseca to 11 years.

Nine men were indicted in Los Angeles but only three were tried here. One defendant subsequently died. Four, including Caro and Fonseca, were tried in Mexico on narcotics and murder charges. Verdicts have not yet been reached on some of those charges, including the murder charges.

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