Jimmy Gurule, a Salt Lake native, was the main prosecutor of two men guilty of the torture-murder of an American drug agent and a pilot killed in Mexico nearly four years ago, and another man who was an accessory.
"It's been an eye-opening experience for me," Gurule told the Deseret News Friday.On Feb. 7, 1985, Drug Enforcement Agency undercover agent Enrique Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar, were kidnapped and murdered in Guadalajara, Mexico. The crimes illustrated the tremendous power and arrogance of a Mexican drug ring.
But thanks to Gurule, two of the men involved in the murders - Raul Lopez Alvarez and Rene Verdugo Urquidez - were found guilty of murder this year. The third man, Jesus Felix Guttierez, was convicted of being an accessory after the fact.
Alvarez and Urquidez were sentenced to 240 years each, with an order that they may not be eligible for parole for 60 years. Guttierez was sentenced to 10 years, plus 15 years on a continuing criminal enterprise charge.
Gurule was born and raised in Salt Lake City. He graduated from the University of Utah, and, in 1980, from the university law school. Since then he has become one of the most important federal drug and murder prosecutors, deputy chief ofthe Major Narcotics Section of the U.S. attorney's office for Los Angeles.
He is based in Los Angeles, and that's where the trials were held. Los Angeles is the new main artery for illicit drugs from Central and South America, he said. It has replaced Miami as the main thoroughfare.
While visiting his home town over the holidays, he was interviewed by the Deseret News.
Camarena, an American citizen, was assigned to the DEA's Guadalajara office.
He had been scheduled to be reassigned to San Diego within about the next month, but he was kidnapped "from right across the street from the U.S. Consulate. We subsequently learned a number of the kidnappers were in fact state and federal (Mexico) judicial officers," Gurule said.
Then, the prosecutor says, Camarena was driven to the compound of Rafael Caro-Quintero. The DEA has alleged that Caro-Quintero was a leader of one of Mexico's biggest drug rings.
Camarena had worked in an undercover operation that resulted in the seizure and destruction of about 100 tons of marijuana. The DEA believes the marijuana was controlled by Quintero.
After that bust, Camarena's cover was blown.
Also, a couple of months earlier 10,000 tons of marijuana was seized in Chihuahua, Mexico, during a bust in which the DEA participated.
At that time, 7,000 field workers were detained. The marijuana fields covered 10,000 acres, and power lines for the farm equipment ran past villages that had no electricity.
"Mexican police officials were providing the protection for those fields, to ensure that no one could interfere," Gurule said. The cost to drug lords was estimated at $56 million.
Although Camarena was not in on the Chihuahua bust, the DEA was - and that was enough.
Two hours after Camarena was kidnapped Avelar was too. Gurule said he was also taken to the compound, "where he was interrogated, tortured and ultimately murdered."
While a tape recorder rolled, the handcuffed men were beaten mercilessly, questioned, and finally murdered by a weapon being driven into their heads - a screwdriver, gun barrel or ice pick. Both had skull and rib fractures.
In April 1985, the DEA learned - how it learned is classified - that Mexican officials had tapes of the interrogation. DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and Assistant Attorney General Steve Trott demanded them.
"Two tapes were turned over and voices were subsequently identified," Gurule said. "The tape recordings were introduced in the Los Angeles trial and in fact graphically revealed the torture and the groans and moans of Special Agent Camarena as he held on to life. And toward the end of the tapes you could tell his life was just slipping away - that he was almost dead."
Nine defendants were indicted and so far three have been arrested and tried. One of those not yet tried is Caro-Quintero.
Felix-Guttierez was charged with providing a safe haven for Caro-Quintero in Costa Rica. "He had purchased a mansion for him" in that country, paying $700,000 in cash.
However, Caro-Quintero was arrested in San Juan, Costa Rica and extradited to Mexico. He is in custody in Mexico City.
"He has not been tried and convicted. And reports that DEA received and has corroborated are that the cell where he is held is a very plush cell, which includes his own personal TV, VCR, private cook . . . kitchen facilities. Alcohol is allowed, and conjugal visits on a regular basis."
Before America's investigators and prosecutors reached out and nabbed some of the gang, Gurule said, its members "operated in Guadalajara with an air of invincibility. . .They thought they could not be touched.
"The only obstacle in front of them was the DEA."