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Mexican Officer Gets Year for Perjury in DEA Slaying

Times Staff Writer

A high-ranking Mexican internal security officer convicted of lying to the grand jury investigating the slaying of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena was sentenced Tuesday to one year in federal prison.

Mario Martinez Herrera, 38, was convicted in December on a single charge of perjury for denying in grand jury testimony that he had ever been in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent on assignment in Guadalajara, was kidnaped, tortured and killed in that city in February, 1985, allegedly by Mexican drug traders.

Immediately after Tuesday’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving, Martinez’s defense attorney said he will appeal the conviction. Attorney Michael P. Murray also insisted that his client is innocent and claimed that Martinez was victimized by overzealous prosecutors eager for results in the widely publicized case.

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“There’s no question but that this has been a big fishing expedition,” Murray said of the government’s handling of the Camarena case. “This (conviction) is like, ‘Score one for the government.’ They had to come up with something after all their efforts. Now, they can point to Mr. Martinez.”

A native of Tijuana, Martinez is a commander in the General Directorate of Investigations and National Security, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI. He was arrested as a material witness to Camarena’s killing on Sept. 15 after eating at a restaurant in Chula Vista, where he was vacationing.

Prosecutors have described Martinez as a “target” of the Camarena investigation, but he was not charged in the drug agent’s death. Instead, Justice Department attorneys James Wilson and Daniel Fromstein focused their case against Martinez on the single felony perjury charge.

The Mexican officer was offered a plea bargain if he would help federal agents investigating Camarena’s killing. But Martinez has asserted since his arrest that he knows nothing about the American agent’s disappearance or death.

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During the trial, prosecutors used Cesario Garciabueno, a Mexican attorney who had served as a DEA informer, as their lead witness. Testimony from the attorney, who was shot and left wheelchair-bound--allegedly by assailants angry that he was cooperating with U.S. drug agents--placed Martinez in Guadalajara several times in 1984.

Prosecutors also said a sample of Martinez’s hair matched one found in the Guadalajara house where Camarena was interrogated and tortured.

Murray, meanwhile, argued that his client has never been to Guadalajara except in transit and charged that the federal agents had confused Martinez with another man. The defense attorney sought to bring witnesses from Mexico to testify on behalf of Martinez, but Irving denied his request, saying there was “zero chance” that the witnesses could be persuaded to travel to San Diego to testify.

The judge’s rejection of the defense request to attempt to recruit witnesses and “other due process concerns” will be the basis of the appeal, Murray said.

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Martinez is the first person to be convicted in connection with the sensitive Camarena case, which has damaged relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

American investigators have complained that their Mexican counterparts have been sluggish in prosecuting key figures jailed in Mexico, while Mexican authorities have resented allegations that corruption, incompetence or foot-dragging have characterized their handling of the case.


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