A Los Angeles federal court judge Thursday sentenced a Mexican drug lord's bodyguard to two consecutive life terms for his role in the 1985 murders of two men who inadvertently walked into a party of narcotics traffickers at a Guadalajara restaurant.
The victims were killed after they were mistaken for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie imposed the stiff sentence on Javier Vasquez Velasco, 39, the final defendant to be sentenced in connection with the 1990 Enrique Camarena murder trial.
Last August, Vasquez was convicted of two counts of committing violent acts in aid of racketeering, stemming from the Jan. 30, 1985, slayings of John Walker, an American free-lance writer, and his friend, Alberto Radelat, a Cuban medical student.
Just a week later, on Feb. 7, 1985, Camarena, a veteran DEA agent, was abducted off a Guadalajara street, taken to the home of narcotics baron Rafael Caro Quintero, interrogated, tortured and murdered.
Last year, Rafeedie decided to try Vasquez along with three defendants accused of involvement in the Camarena murder after ruling that there was a significant overlap between the two cases. Federal prosecutors had asserted that the cases were linked, contending that all of the murders were acts committed by a Mexican narcotics cartel in retaliation for raids that cost the traffickers nearly $5 billion in 1984.
Walker's widow, Mary, presented some of the most dramatic testimony of the trial. She tearfully described examining the remains of her husband's maimed body at the Guadalajara morgue in June, 1985, after his bones and those of Radelat were discovered in a Guadalajara park.
"These crimes were about as heinous as one could imagine," Rafeedie said in pronouncing the sentence. "These two innocent young men looking for a place to dine stumbled into a den of narcotics peddlers and soon were dead."
Just a few moments earlier, Vasquez, speaking through an interpreter, proclaimed his innocence in a brief statement to the judge: "I was never at no time at the La Langosta restaurant. . . . What the government is doing here is a cruel injustice."
Vasquez's defense lawyer, Gregory Nicolaysen, who said he would appeal the verdict, urged Rafeedie not to impose a severe sentence on his client, contending that the government's case was based on one unreliable witness.
One year ago to the day, the government's key witness against Vasquez, Enrique Plascencia Aguilar, was unable to identify him in the courtroom. However, a month later, Plascencia returned to the witness stand and testified that he had seen Vasquez and a group of other men pick up Walker and Radelat and beat them in the restaurant.
The account given by Plascencia, a former Guadalajara SWAT team officer with ties to drug barons, was contradicted by a confession made by another former Mexican lawman with links to drug traffickers, Luis Gonzalez Ontiveros. Gonzalez gave Mexican officials a lengthy account of what occurred and made no mention of Vasquez.