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Drug Agent Killed 'by Mistake,' Defendant Says on Tape

August 10, 1988|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

In a dramatic videotaped conversation with an undercover agent, one of three men accused in the murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena said the law officer was killed "by mistake" when his captors "got carried away" after a full day of torture.

As Camarena lay mortally wounded, an altercation broke out between the two wealthy drug barons believed responsible for the killing, one of whom had not wanted the agent killed, Raul Lopez-Alvarez revealed during his talk with the Drug Enforcement Administration agent at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

Portions of the tape, which featured English subtitles, were played Tuesday for jurors in Los Angeles federal court, where Lopez-Alvarez and two others are on trial in connection with the Camarena slaying.

Ernesto Fonseca-Carrillo, an aging marijuana czar so powerful that other traffickers referred to him as "our godfather," walked into the interrogation room several hours into the torture and slapped the younger Rafael Caro-Quintero, his rival for power in Guadalajara, when he learned of the drug agent's condition, said Lopez-Alvarez, who was present during the torture.

Fonseca-Carrillo "didn't want to kill him," he said. But Caro-Quintero, "because he's hasty, because he's young, because he's very full of life . . . he got carried away. By the time the old man got there, (Camarena) was already dying."

Furious, Fonseca-Carrillo slapped Caro-Quintero and said bitterly: "What a (expletive deleted) mess you got us into."

At that point, Lopez-Alvarez said during the recorded conversation, the two drug kingpins' bodyguards took up their weapons and aimed them at each other, prompting the undercover agent, who was posing as a drug dealer, to ask Lopez-Alvarez: "Aren't you compadres?"

"Yes," Lopez-Alvarez replied. "But, well, anger is a bear."

Camarena, a DEA agent investigating marijuana traffickers in Guadalajara, was kidnaped on Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara.

Prosecutors believe that he was taken to Caro-Quintero's lavish home and tortured for nearly 24 hours before he was finally killed with a series of heavy blows to the head.

The body of both the agent and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, were found about a month later buried on a remote ranch south of Guadalajara.

Nine men, including Lopez-Alvarez, Caro-Quintero and Fonseca-Carrillo, have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles in connection with the murder. The two drug kingpins are both jailed in Mexico, facing murder charges.

Lopez-Alvarez, 28, was arrested last October, a few days after he discussed the killing with DEA Agent Abel Reynoso at the Bonaventure Hotel. As the two men chatted quietly at a dimly lit table sipping beverages, a hidden video camera recorded the conversation.

Camarena's death was "a mistake," he said, because the original plan had been "to get him on our side."

"A justifiable death never brings you problems," he told Reynoso, but went on to admit that Camarena's death had not been planned.

Lopez-Alvarez's attorneys claim that he made the damaging admissions because he believed that Reynoso was a drug dealer from whom he could con money if he convinced him he was connected to the drug cartel responsible for Camarena's death.

In cross-examination by defense attorney Yolanda Barerra, Reynoso admitted that some of Lopez-Alvarez's revelations about the killing are inconsistent with the facts.

For example, Lopez-Alvarez's account of Camarena's abduction matched Mexican newspaper accounts, but was not consistent with what actually took place, Barerra said.

Barerra argues that Lopez-Alvarez learned what he knew of the incident from newspaper reports and from fellow prisoners when he was incarcerated in Mexico.

Lopez-Alvarez, a former Mexican state police official, and Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez, 36, are charged with the murders of Camarena and Zavala. Jesus Felix Gutierrez, 38, is charged with helping Caro-Quintero escape to Costa Rica, where the drug kingpin was later captured.

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