Mexican court orders release of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero

A federal court in Jalisco, Mexico, on Friday ordered the immediate release of drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero after 28 years of imprisonment.

Caro Quintero, 60, is one of the founders of the Guadalajara Cartel and the Sonora Cartel, and he was arrested at his mansion in Alajuela, Costa Rica, on April 4, 1985, where he was hiding after the murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in February of that year.

He was then convicted of drug-related offenses, for which according to Mexican courts, “he has already served.”

After 24 years of litigation, on June 3, 2009, a Jalisco court found Caro Quintero and Rafael Ernesto Fonseca – leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel – “responsible for the death of Enrique Camarena Salazar and Mexican pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar, a crime perpetrated on February 7, 1985.”

The drug lords also were found responsible for the abduction of some 4,000 people who were forced to work in drug crops in Chihuahua. The raid at the time allowed local authorities to seize and burn some 10 tons of marijuana.

Although prosecutors asked for 199 years in prison for Caro Quintero and 150 years for Fonseca, they were sentenced to 40 years in prison each, the maximum conviction allowed by the Federal Penal Code in 1985.

Caro Quintero’s lawyers last year filed an appeal stating that his client should have not been prosecuted for a federal offense for the murder of Camarena, but for a criminal offense, because the DEA agent was not executing diplomatic or official duties while in Mexico.

On Thursday, a criminal court in Jalisco ruled in favor of the drug lord, announcing their decision in the early hours of Friday to Caro Quintero at the maximum-security area of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco.

U.S. authorities never had the chance to bring Caro Quintero to trial in the U.S. for the murder of agent Camarena, as Mexican nationals cannot be extradited in potential death-penalty cases, which are prohibited by a Mexican Supreme Court ruling and local legislation protecting the right to life.

However, the DEA in June issued an international alert ordering the arrest of the drug kingpin on charges of kidnapping and murder of a federal agent.

The capture of Caro Quintero in Costa Rica made worldwide headlines in 1985 when DEA officials and local Judicial Police agents raided the kingpin’s mansion at 5 a.m. on April 4 in an operation involving overflights and a ground incursion.

Caro Quintero was captured, along with his lover Sara Cossío and other members of his band including Mexicans José Albino Bazán, Juan Carlos Campos, Luis Beltrán, Miguel Lugo and Violeta Estrada. They all were extradited to Mexico the next day.