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California and the West

Allegation Was Excised in Camarena Case

Trial: Documents show prosecutors withheld from defense an informant's charge that two Mexican leaders discussed DEA agent with drug lord before slaying. U.S. lawyer says the deletion was not sinister.

October 29, 1997|FREDRIC N. TULSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his initial statement, Lira said Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo had told him to wait outside as the drug lord entered a house in November 1984, about two months before Camarena was abducted. After an hour or so, Lira told the DEA, he opened the door for 15 to 20 seconds and saw President De la Madrid, former President Lopez Portillo and Gov. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo of Jalisco state sitting with the drug lord. Lira said that a pile of U.S. money was in front of the governor and that the group was talking about "Camarena" and the site of a recent DEA raid. Fonseca was one of more than two dozen people convicted in Mexico in the case.

John Gavin, ambassador to Mexico at the time Camarena was killed, has maintained that testimony implicating high-level Mexican officials in the kidnapping plot is false, in part because one of those officials was known to him as a staunch anti-drug ally.

As for the new information that Lira had implicated two former presidents, Gavin said, "There is no way such a thing happened. It is so false that not even the worst enemies" of the two men "would give it credibility."

One of Gavin's successors, John D. Negroponte, also said he had never before heard the allegation and did not believe it.

Alan Rubin, a former prosecutor who represented gynecologist Alvarez, said Lira's allegation was "so patently incredible [that] there is no doubt it would have been helpful to the defense. And it appears that is why [prosecutors] withheld it."

The statement, with the section implicating the two presidents removed, was turned over to attorneys for defendants Zuno and Alvarez during the trial. At the time, prosecutors had listed Lira as a witness they intended to call.

Deletions are common in reports that the government provides to defense attorneys. It is required to turn over only information that might help clear the defendants, and statements of prosecution witnesses to investigators.

What is striking in this case is that the excised passage was not blackened out, as is customary. The bottom of one page of Lira's statement was whited out and the next page was missing--but the pages were renumbered sequentially. Defense attorneys say it was not readily apparent that any information had been withheld.

One of the prosecutors, John Carlton, said he was unaware of the deletion until a reporter pointed it out. His co-counsel, Manuel Medrano, now a TV reporter, said he did not remember the document at all.

Drooyan, who is supervising prosecutor, said he did not know why the deletion was done in such an unusual manner, and added that he had some questions about it.

He said he has great confidence in the integrity and judgment of the trial prosecutors.

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