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2 Men Admit Roles in 1993 Slaying of Mexican Cardinal

Courts: San Diego gang members make admissions in pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana. They face sentences of up to life in prison.

October 16, 1998|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Two gang members, pleading guilty to drug charges, admitted that they took part in a 1993 shootout in which the Roman Catholic cardinal in Guadalajara was killed, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The men, Adolfo Marin Cuevas, 32, and Carlos Garcia Martinez, 28, made the admission as part of a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on charges that they conspired to distribute cocaine and marijuana, according to a statement issued by interim U.S. Atty. Charles G. La Bella.

They admitted serving as hit men for the notorious Arellano Felix drug cartel based across the border in Tijuana, La Bella said. As part of their plea, they "admitted to participating" in the attempted murder of a rival drug dealer that left Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo and six other people dead outside the Guadalajara airport, La Bella said. The prosecutor's statement did not indicate exactly what role Marin and Garcia played in the botched hit.

A third gang member, Jose Mendez Torres, 25, also admitted working as an enforcer for the cartel and pleaded guilty to the drug trafficking conspiracy charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Mendez admitted taking part in the 1995 kidnapping of a prominent Tijuana businessman.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 6.

The admissions Thursday offered official confirmation of widely held suspicions that the gang was involved in the 1993 ambush.

In indictments unsealed in February, the three were among 10 gang members named as narcotics traffickers and hit men for the Arellano Felix brothers and believed to be tied to the May 1993 shooting death of Posadas.

The hit men are thought to have targeted an Arellano Felix drug rival, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman Loera, but instead killed Posadas, who pulled up in his car as the gunmen were about to open fire.

The killing of Posadas, an outspoken critic of the drug cartels, shocked Mexico and prompted many to charge that he was the intended target. Contradictory government accounts and the failure to catch the masterminds fueled a sense of intrigue around the incident that swirls even today.

The Arellano Felix brothers, who are also wanted in connection with the cardinal's slaying, have been in hiding since then. Ramon Arellano Feliz is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

Four men arrested in Mexico after the assault implicated Barrio Logan gang members, seven of whom were placed in Mexican custody. Marin was one of three gang members later released by Mexican judges. Marin, an illegal immigrant, was convicted in San Diego in 1996 on federal charges of reentering the United States after being deported.

The street gang, based in San Diego's Barrio Logan, has long been the focus of U.S. and Mexican authorities as an alleged recruiting ground for the powerful drug cartel.

The three-count indictment unsealed in February alleged that gang members were recruited by David Barron Corona, a top enforcer for the Arellano organization, and organized as assassins against rival drug organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border in California. Barron allegedly organized the hit squad that carried out the botched 1993 ambush.

Barron, known as "CH," was killed in November by a bullet fired by a fellow gunman during a failed assassination attempt on Tijuana publisher J. Jesus Blancornelas, whose weekly newspaper covers the drug underworld extensively and had just named Barron in connection with the killings of two Mexican soldiers assigned to federal police in Baja California.

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