MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – Notorious Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted of ordering the killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer in 1985, was freed by a court yesterday, and the agency said it will press to have him brought to justice in the United States.
Caro Quintero, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for ordering the killing of undercover DEA agent Enrique Camarena and served 28 years in prison, was released after the court decided he should have been tried at a state level, rather than federal level, a court official said.
In a statement, the DEA said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision to free Caro Quintero, whom it called “the mastermind and organizer of this atrocious act.”
“We are reminded every day of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Special Agent Camarena and DEA will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed,” it said.
Caro Quintero, who the U.S. Department of Justice says was born in 1952, holds a special place in Mexican drug lore and was one of the leaders of the Guadalajara cartel, a forerunner of the Sinaloa cartel which is currently led by Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the country’s most-wanted drug lord.
He was released from the Puente Grande prison in the western Mexican state of Jalisco on Friday morning, according to the state attorney general’s office.
“There are various factors, and among them the fact that he already served his time for drug trafficking,” the court official said.
Caro Quintero was convicted of ordering the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of Camarena, who had been behind a number of successful drug busts.
At the time, the United States expressed anger at a perceived lackluster effort to catch Camarena’s killer and the episode marked a low point in Mexico-U.S. relations. Caro Quintero was caught in Costa Rica in 1985.
His release raises the possibility of a renewed tussle between the two countries over the possible extradition of the aging drug lord.
“The Department of Justice has continued to make clear to Mexican authorities the continued interest of the United States in securing Caro Quintero’s extradition so that he might face justice in the United States,” said U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.