Murder Plot Suspects Say Beating Led to Confession

Times Staff Writer

Three men accused of plotting to torture and murder a federal customs agent were beaten after their arrests, prompting one of them to admit he was told to carry out the murder, the men's lawyers charged Tuesday.

In closing arguments to a two-week trial in Los Angeles Federal Court, attorneys for former Mexican police official Raul Lopez Alvarez and two co-defendants said the men suffered scrapes, bruises and a broken nose during an arrest that occurred after a secret video recording of their meeting with an undercover agent was inexplicably turned off.

"Raul testified that he was beaten around the face and the ribs as he was being read his rights," said Lopez Alvarez's lawyer, deputy federal public defender Elsa Leyva.

Evidence of the defendants' injuries was introduced after prosecutors produced a statement from one of the defendants, Fabian Jimenez Martinez, in which he admitted after his arrest that Lopez Alvarez had told him he was being hired to help kidnap--and murder, if necessary--a man in Southern California.

Conflicting Testimony

Testimony about the circumstances of the arrest has been conflicting, and no direct evidence is available because a video camera that had been recording the three defendants' final meeting with an undercover agent was turned off just before the arrest occurred.

Defense lawyers claim that the alleged violence during the arrest indicates that Jimenez Martinez did not make the statement voluntarily. Throughout the case, the defense has contended that undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents framed the three men to lure Lopez Alvarez--a suspect in the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena--into the United States to stand trial.

Prosecutors claim that arresting officers used no more force than was necessary to overcome the defendants' resistance, and they deny that any beatings occurred after the initial arrest. The only medical treatment Jimenez Martinez received, they said, was a prescription for Tylenol.

Risking Their Lives

"It's puzzling to me that they can come up here and argue that somehow these agents did not do one heck of a job. Thank God we've got agents like this . . . who are willing to risk their lives," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Raul Campos.

The prosecution has produced nearly 12 hours of videotapes and audiotapes of meetings between a DEA agent posing as a drug dealer and the three defendants in which Lopez Alvarez offers, for a $25,000 fee, to kidnap, torture and murder a U.S. Customs Service agent.

Instruments of torture that were to be acquired, where the killing was to take place and how the body was to be disposed of are all discussed. On several occasions, Lopez Alvarez brags about his own involvement in the Camarena murder, discussing the methods of torture that were used on the DEA agent in Guadalajara.

In one videotape played in court, Lopez Alvarez claims that Camarena "couldn't bear" the torture.

U.S. agents, he said, "since they don't have any experience in these things . . . in one hour they'll start to let it roll. So we'll give them a list of questions. That's what we did with Camarena, and he let it all out."

Campos, who is prosecuting both the present case and the upcoming Camarena case with Assistant U.S. Atty. Jimmy Gurule, said:

"All of the evidence in this case points to one thing: These three defendants came to the United States for one reason, and that reason was to kidnap, to torture in the most grisly way and finally to kill a federal agent. And they did it for the most base, the basest, of reasons: for greed, for money."

But defense lawyers say the entire scenario was orchestrated by government agents and the confidential informant who originally introduced Lopez Alvarez to DEA agent Abel Reynoso as part of an alleged drug transaction.

Although Lopez Alvarez claimed to be working for Mexican drug lord Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo --currently jailed in Mexico in connection with the Camarena murder--attorney Leyva said he was really trying to set up a scam of his own, duping Reynoso into believing that he could carry out the murder-for-hire plot, but planning all along to take the money and run.

Attorneys for Jimenez Martinez and Carlos Quintero Maldonado, two men Lopez Alvarez reportedly hired in Mexico to help him, claim the men were told that Lopez needed them to help him collect some money from a man in Southern California.

Denied Being Told

Despite Jimenez Martinez's post-arrest statement, the two men claim they were never told of any murder-for-hire plot, but played along with Lopez Alvarez's scam once they arrived in order to collect the money.

Even after Reynoso paid them several hundred dollars to buy weapons for the killing, the three men went to a Montebello department store and spent it on new clothes and toiletries, not torture implements, Leyva said. The only weapons supplied for the enterprise were brought by Reynoso, she said.

The murder was never carried out. The customs agent who was to be killed was fictitious, and DEA agents and SWAT team officers swarmed in to arrest the three after the agreement was finalized, before any of the men could leave to begin carrying it out.

Would Have Gone Home

Leyva, Quintero Maldonado's lawyer, Alan Rubin, and Jimenez Martinez's attorney, Marcia Brewer, claim that the three men would simply have returned to Mexico had they been given the money.

"Why didn't they just give them the money and see what they did? Why didn't they let them make a step after they gave them the money? Because then you'd see that their next step would've been a foot in Mexico," Leyva told the jury.

But Campos said that by that time, the defendants' plan was clear. "What should the government do at that point?" he said. "Should they wait till there's a killing? Should they wait till there's another situation where somebody else might be at risk?"

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