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Shame, Disbelief in Suspect's Pueblo : Mexico: Daniel Aguilar Trevino's hometown endures unwanted attention after political leader's assassination.


CORRALEJO, Mexico — Fifteen hours of hard driving separates Mexico City from the village of 60 families where Daniel Aguilar Trevino was born in a dirt-floor shack. It is a pueblo so placid that sleeping dogs don't budge from the hard-packed roads for passing cars, and local police officials can't even remember the last arrest for a violent crime.

And those officials barely recall "Danielito," the skinny, 28-year-old bean farmer and sometime ranch hand whose first trip to Mexico City has made him an infamous figure--the accused killer of powerful Mexican political leader Francisco Ruiz Massieu, a man he knew only from magazine photos.

"We don't know why he would do this," said his mother, Jovita Trevino, tears rimming her eyes. "I think somebody took control of his mind."

Since last week, when federal investigators roared into Jovita Trevino's rose garden with questions about her son, the peaceful village of Corralejo has come under siege from unwanted attention.

The village has fallen into the wide net that federal investigators are casting as they investigate the bold daylight murder of the second-ranking official in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has ruled Mexico for 65 years. Ruiz Massieu was a former governor of the state of Guerrero who was rumored to be slated to become majority leader in the Chamber of Deputies.

The trail has led to the northeastern state of Tamaulipas because of Aguilar Trevino and two men he named as his accomplices in a statement to police. And suspicion has fallen on the head of the drug cartel that controls the state and a union boss who has been in prison for nearly six years, as well as several legislators, according to sources close to the investigation.

Authorities have not confirmed any of the myriad reports appearing in the media and have denied only a few. The attorney general has not made a statement since Thursday.

The breach of information has been filled with rumors and speculation. Some theories link Ruiz Massieu's murder to the March assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Because both the victim and his suspected killer are from states notorious for drug trafficking, narcotics dealers have come under suspicion. Other reports indicate that Ruiz Massieu made enough enemies during his tenure as governor of Guerrero to explain a revenge killing.

Villagers here denied press reports of massive arrests, although they said they have been questioned by police.

Aguilar Trevino's ailing 70-year-old father has retreated in embarrassment to his daughter's house in a neighboring city. Next door, a one-room house is guarded only by a dog and a few goats; the owners also left after their son, Carlos Cantu Narvaez, was linked to the assassination plot. Cantu, who was Aguilar Trevino's childhood friend, surrendered to police on Saturday, Reuters news service reported.

Investigators say it was Cantu who accompanied Aguilar Trevino in a green Chrysler on the day of the slaying, signaling to shoot Ruiz Massieu. And, investigators say, a third man, Fernando Rodriguez Gonzalez, pointed out the victim for Aguilar Trevino in a magazine photo. Investigators contend that Aguilar Trevino's price for killing a man he didn't know was 50,000 new pesos--$17,000.

In Aguilar Trevino's hometown, where most people eke out a living farming or raising animals, $17,000 is a fortune that could buy a neighborhood of six homes. It is 10 years of income for a campesino making barely $5 a day.

But his mother said she had no clue that her son was desperate for money.

"This is so mortifying for us," she said. "For the poverty we have, he didn't need to do this."

There has been nothing in Aguilar Trevino's life that ever hinted at the cold role of an executioner. His passion is music, the louder the better. He likes fine clothes and the dances hosted at local ranches. He has no taste for politics other than to vote for the PRI in the August election.

The third son of six children, Aguilar Trevino comes from a family that was intertwined with most of the other families in Corralejo. Many of his relatives considered his life rather uneventful.

After finishing elementary school, Aguilar Trevino started tending bean and corn plants on his father's farm. Sometimes he would find jobs on local ranches, caring for animals and tending gardens. More than a year ago, his mother said, he drifted to California, where he picked oranges for a season. But she was hazy on the details of his employers.

She said he always sent money home. And eventually he saved enough to build a one-room house on his parents' property four months ago.

About 15 days before the killing, Aguilar Trevino left his home, telling his family he had found a new job as a ranch hand. Police, however, said Aguilar Trevino told them he arrived in Mexico City three weeks before the slaying. His family knew nothing else when he left but took comfort from the fact that he said he would return in time to prepare for his December birthday.

His youngest sister, Delfina, remembers joking with him about killing his fat old dog to roast for his birthday dinner.

Then she added, "Why don't you kill a goat for the dinner?"

She said he shook his head and replied, "I don't know what I'll kill."

Times staff writer Juanita Darling contributed to this report from Mexico City.

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