'Los Palillos' Boss Gets Nine Life Terms For Killings, Kidnappings In San Diego
A leader in a Mexican drug trafficking gang who participated in six murders, including the strangling of two men in San Ysidro whose bodies were dissolved in acid, was sentenced today to nine terms of life in prison without parole.
Juan Francisco Estrada Gonzalez, 35, was convicted with "Los Palillos" boss Jorge Rojas Lopez of multiple counts of murder and kidnapping after a 15-month trial.
"(Mr. Estrada) was a co-captain on this death squad," San Diego Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador said before Estrada Gonzalez was sentenced.
In all, nine people were murdered in San Diego County between 2004 and 2007, the prosecutor said, noting Estrada Gonzalez participated in only six, because he was in Kansas City, Missouri, when three victims were killed.
Keith Rutman, one of the attorneys for Estrada Gonzalez, read a letter from his client in which the defendant thanked his legal team who "succeeded in saving my life."
The defendant apologized to the families of the victims and his own family, especially his mother, whom he said has suffered the most because of his actions.
Co-counsel Al Arena, who has represented Estrada Gonzalez on-and-off since 2007, said his client was extremely remorseful for his crimes.
"There is, as I see it, a measure of goodness in him," Arena said.
Amador said Estrada Gonzalez was sentenced to 29 years in prison in Mexico in 2003, but he escaped and came to the United States.
Estrada Gonzalez and Rojas Lopez, also 35, were facing the death penalty here, but jurors deadlocked after a penalty phase on punishment.
The defendants ultimately pleaded guilty to unresolved counts in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
Before trial, Estrada Gonzalez and Rojas Lopez were already serving a life term without parole for a separate kidnapping.
The defendants are among 18 defendants indicted for San Diego County crimes committed by members of Los Palillos — Spanish for "toothpicks."
Amador said members of Los Palillos fled Mexico and set up operations in San Diego and Kansas City after the Arellano Felix drug family killed Rojas Lopez's brother in 2002.
Rojas Lopez faces sentencing tomorrow.