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Witnesses’ Credibility Challenged : Camarena case: First two defense figures take the stand. Their testimony disputes account given on behalf of prosecution.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first two defense witnesses in the Enrique Camarena murder trial gave testimony in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday that raised serious questions about the credibility of one of the most critical prosecution witnesses.

Both witnesses are relatives of defendant Javier Vasquez Velasco, 38, who faces a life sentence if convicted of the charges against him.

The statements of Esperanza Zaragoza Juares, Vasquez’s sister-in-law, and her daughter, Teresa Vasquez Zaragoza, appeared to undermine the testimony of Hector Cervantes Santos, a government-paid informant. He made damaging remarks about all four defendants in the case during his four days on the witness stand last month.

Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, was kidnaped and murdered in Guadalajara, Mexico, in February, 1985, setting off the biggest manhunt in DEA history. Thus far, 22 persons have been indicted in Los Angeles on charges related to his murder. This is the second criminal trial held here in connection with his slaying and the deaths of three others.

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Zaragoza said that from 1983 to 1985, she spent considerable time at the country estate of drug trafficker Javier Barba Hernandez, which was the scene of four meetings where Camarena’s kidnaping was planned in late 1984 and early 1985, according to Cervantes’ testimony. Last month, he told jurors that he was the chief of security for the estate and lived there.

Cervantes also testified that one of the meetings where Camarena’s kidnaping was planned took place during the wedding of Barba’s brother, Jorge. Another occurred during the baptism of Barba’s daughter, Joremi, Cervantes testified.

However, both Zaragoza and Teresa Vasquez testified Tuesday that the only employee of Barba who lived at the house was named Pedro and he was a tall, thin man. Cervantes is short and stocky.

Both women also testified that if Barba had a daughter they were unaware of it. Both women said he had two sons. Zaragoza said she attended the baptism of one of the sons and that it was not held at the large country house.

Zaragoza also said that Barba’s brother was never married.

Zaragoza said that her knowledge of what took place at the house stemmed from the fact that she spent considerable time there in 1984 with Barba’s wife and their children. Vasquez said her knowledge came from the fact that she and her husband lived in an adjoining house for about eight months starting in late January, 1985.

Both women testified that there was no telephone in the house, contradicting another important element of Cervantes’ testimony. He had described phone calls that came to Barba at the house.

Cervantes testified that there frequently were parties at the house. But the women said the only large social gatherings they recalled were family get-togethers on Mother’s Day.

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The women also described the house as being considerably larger than Cervantes had depicted. Their description was of a compound that was ranch-like, where a number of animals--about 50 bulls, 10 cows, and 10 horses--were kept outside. Their only significant point of agreement with Cervantes was that a lion was kept in the house.

Finally, both women gave a different address for the house than Cervantes gave when he was on the witness stand.

Cervantes was present at the courthouse Tuesday and prosecutors conferred with him during a break in the trial.

Zaragoza’s husband, Eliseo Vasquez Velasco, was one of Barba’s bodyguards. He and Barba were killed by Mexican Federal Judicial Police in a November, 1986, shoot-out. Zaragoza and her daughter said they knew little about Eliseo Vasquez’s business life. The daughter responded “no” when asked if she had any knowledge that her father was involved in drug trafficking.

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Both witnesses answered questions through a translator. Zaragoza appeared nervous and was unable to identify photos of a house shown to her by prosecutors. Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel A. Medrano later said the photos were not pictures of the country house, which was called “La Quinta.”

Zaragoza was able to identify a photo of the country house when it was shown to her by a defense lawyer.

Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie denied motions by lawyers for each of the four defendants that charges against their clients be dismissed on grounds that the prosecution’s case was flawed in various respects.


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