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Killer of No. 2 PRI Official Gets 50-Year Term in Mexico

March 22, 1995|JUANITA DARLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — The man who fired the shot that killed the No. 2 official in Mexico's ruling party has been found guilty of murder, along with seven co-conspirators, and sentenced to 50 years in prison, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The eight convictions in the killing of Francisco Ruiz Massieu support the existence of a plot that prosecutors say stretches all the way to the elder brother of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Coming less than six months after Ruiz Massieu was gunned down outside a Mexico City hotel, the convictions raise serious questions about the comparative lack of progress in two earlier high-profile slayings, those of ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio and Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.

They also serve as an ironic tribute to the man who conducted the investigation that led to these arrests: Mario Ruiz Massieu, the victim's brother. The former prosecutor is now in jail in the United States on currency violation charges, while in Mexico he is accused of covering up Raul Salinas de Gortari's alleged role in helping to mastermind the killing of Ruiz Massieu's brother.

Investigators also have found millions of dollars in U.S. and Mexican bank accounts under Mario Ruiz Massieu's name, raising suspicions about his role as special prosecutor in the assassination case and, earlier, as Mexico's top anti-drug official.

Despite such questions about Mario Ruiz Massieu's conduct, Judge Emma Meza found the evidence uncovered in the early part of his investigation compelling enough to convict the eight co-conspirators and to sentence half of them to 50 years in prison, the maximum penalty under Mexican law.

The eight were convicted, even though no clear motive has yet been established in the murder. Investigators have said they suspect a falling-out over business and family matters between Raul Salinas and the victim, who was divorced from Salinas' sister.

Six other suspects, including Raul Salinas, are in jail awaiting trial in the case.

Mexico does not operate with a jury system. All criminal convictions are automatically appealed.

Based largely on the defendants' own declarations, the court concluded that Congressman Manuel Munoz Rocha instructed his assistant, Fernando Rodriguez, to plan the murder of Francisco Ruiz Massieu.

Rodriguez, one of the eight convicted, called on his brother, his common-law wife, his brother-in-law and his chauffeur, among others, to help him commit the crime, authorities say.

They bought a gun from a police commander in their home state of Tamaulipas and hired two ranch hands as triggermen. One of these, Daniel Aguilar Trevino, shot Ruiz Massieu as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) official got into his car following a political breakfast on Sept. 28, the judge found.

Munoz Rocha was brought in for questioning, then released. He immediately disappeared. He is now believed to be dead, and investigators are reportedly scouring parts of Mexico where he may be buried.

Rodriguez told investigators that he received a panicked call from Munoz Rocha in October, as investigators were unraveling the murder plot, according to news reports. The congressman said he was being tailed by several men. "Call Raul and ask him to save me," Rodriguez said Munoz Rocha told him. Then Rodriguez said he heard screams and the phone went dead.

Ruiz Massieu is accused of having omitted such references to the president's brother in his report of the investigation. Instead, he caused a major scandal by accusing ruling party officials of obstructing his inquiry.

However, his successor, Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, quickly moved the case forward, using telephone records and defendants' statements to allegedly trace the plot to Raul Salinas.

The arrest last month of the brother of the former president broke one of the unwritten rules of Mexican politics, which obliges politicians to cover up for their predecessors and people close to them.

The decisive action in the Francisco Ruiz Massieu case also raised public demands for progress in the Colosio and Posadas Ocampo killings.

The only people arrested in those investigations have been the alleged triggermen and those accused of helping them at the scene or to escape.

The alleged masterminds of the cardinal's assassination--the Arellano brothers, believed to head a notoriously violent drug ring out of Tijuana--have eluded a nearly two-year police search.

The cardinal was killed May 24, 1993, in a spectacular firefight at the airport in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, where he had gone to meet a papal emissary. Attorney general's investigators have said they believe Posadas Ocampo was killed in a case of mistaken identity by narcotics dealers who confused him with a rival drug lord.

After meeting with investigators last week, Posadas Ocampo's successor, Cardinal Juan Sandoval, said he thinks the cardinal was gunned down by drug traffickers on purpose, but he would not say why.

Similarly, on the eve of the first anniversary of Colosio's March 23 assassination, investigators have little to show except for volumes of declarations and reports, a mysterious convicted triggerman, and a variety of low-level campaign security guards who are languishing in prison awaiting trial.

Federal police are still following more than a dozen sometimes contradictory lines of investigation and seem no closer to the truth than they were a year ago.

Before Mario Ruiz Massieu's recent fall from grace, Mexicans often shook their heads over the striking difference in the progress of the three investigations, remarking, "It is a shame that the cardinal and Colosio did not have brothers in the attorney general's office."

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