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Suspected Drug Leader Pleads Not Guilty

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Aired 4/19/09

Suspected Tijuana drug cartel leader Javier Arellano Felix and one of his top lieutenants pleaded not guilty in federal court in San Diego today to charges contained in a new indictment. The two could face the death penalty if they’re convicted. KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.

US Marshalls lead Francisco Javier Arellano Felix and Manuel Arturo Villareal into the courtroom in leg chains and double handcuffs. The men looked thinner than when they were arrested four months ago. Defense Attorneys asked for the shackles to be removed, but the judge denied the request.

The new seven count indictment charges Arellano Felix and Villareal with running a criminal enterprise, which is punishable by death. The document further alleges the two ordered the beheading of three Rosarito Beach policemen last June and that Arellano Felix directed the killing of Tijuana’s Deputy Police Chief in 2005.

Of the 23 murder and kidnapping counts included in the indictment, five took place in   California. Villareal’s defense attorney, Eugene Iredale, says the rest of the alleged crimes were committed in Mexico and should be tried there.

Iredale: The accusations are we’re going to kill you here for something you did in Mexico now defend yourself. Oh by the way we have a witness here from the jail, we’re bringing him over. Now you get your witnesses from Mexico or wherever you need them. Best of luck. And if you don’t do a good job, we’re going to kill you. That’s not fair.

However, federal prosecutors say the men can be tried in the US because they directed operations on US soil. The sites of the racketeering plots read like a map of Southern California. All eight charges of importing and selling cocaine and marijuana took place in locations including Chula Vista, Los Angeles and Fontana.  

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for January 2nd. Amy Isackson, KPBS news.

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