MEXICO CITY – Former drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero was released before dawn Friday after a Mexican federal court overturned his conviction for the murder of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a source at Puente Grande prison told Efe.
Caro Quintero, 60, left the penitentiary in the western state of Jalisco several hours before the court decision was made public, the source said.
One of the founders of the now-defunct Guadalajara cartel, Caro Quintero had been behind bars since 1985 for a raft of offenses, including the abduction, torture and killing of the DEA’s Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.
"The Drug Enforcement Administration is deeply troubled to learn of the decision by a Mexican court to release infamous drug trafficker Rafael Caro-Quintero from a Mexican prison," said a US DEA spokesman. "Caro-Quintero had been serving a 40 year prison sentence in connection with the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in February 1985. Caro-Quintero was the mastermind and organizer of this atrocious act."
A federal appellate panel in Jalisco ordered Caro Quintero freed after concluding he had served his sentences for drugs and racketeering and that the penalty imposed for Camarena’s murder was invalid because of a jurisdictional error in the original trial.
Because Camarena was not an accredited diplomat, the murder case should have been tried in state court rather than at the federal level, the judges said.
Authorities are checking for an active U.S. request for the erstwhile kingpin’s extradition, a source in the Mexican Attorney General’s Office told Efe.
Caro Quintero “has to remain locatable,” the source said, though adding that in the absence of a still-valid extradition request, the “gentleman is absolutely free.”
Created by Caro Quintero, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, the Guadalajara cartel was one of Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the 1980s.
"We are reminded every day of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Special Agent Camarena and DEA will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro-Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed," said the spokesman for the US DEA.