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Man Held in Cardinal's Slaying Was Beaten, Suffocated

September 11, 1993|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Mexican police investigators have determined that a San Diego gang member accused in the slaying of a Roman Catholic cardinal was beaten and suffocated with a pillow in his Guadalajara prison cell, authorities said Friday.

Police were questioning guards and inmates in the mysterious death of Ramon Torres Mendez. The 24-year-old, known as "Spooky," was one of eight suspected gunmen arrested in the slaying of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo in May at the Guadalajara airport.

Torres' body was discovered in his cell Wednesday morning, bleeding from the mouth and nose, by his cellmate at the Preventive Prison of Guadalajara, according to authorities.

An autopsy completed Thursday night in Guadalajara showed that Torres died of asphyxiation due to suffocation, according to a spokesman for the Jalisco State Judicial Police. Torres had bruises on the head and mouth, indicating that he was beaten, said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

"It appears that someone hit him hard on the head and then used the pillow to suffocate him," the police official said.

Citing the killing, the lawyer of a fellow gang member facing extradition from San Diego in the cardinal's death said his client and three others being held in the United States would be in grave danger if sent to Mexico.

Lawyer Michael Littman said he had gathered evidence from prisoners' relatives who visited Guadalajara that police had subjected Torres and three other suspects to torture--beatings, cigarette burns on open wounds and death threats at gunpoint.

Another lawyer accused the Mexican government Friday of complicity in Torres' killing.

"I'm quite confident that they are marked for death if they go down there," said Jan Ronis, who represents Adolfo Cuevas Marin, whose alias is "Nightowl." Ronis plans to appeal a San Diego judge's decision Thursday to deport Cuevas as an illegal immigrant.

Torres was alone Tuesday night because his cellmate, Juan Enrique Vazcones, received a conjugal visit and spent the night in another cell, the police spokesman said. Vazcones found the body near a bloodstained pillow upon returning at 8 a.m.

Torres and Vazcones surrendered to Mexican federal officers in Tijuana in exchange for a promise from the drug cartel that their families would be handsomely compensated, according to U.S. officials. Torres was an illegal immigrant with an extensive criminal record, according to authorities.

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