Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What is an appropriate sentence for a 14-year-old hit man?

A 14-year-old U.S. citizen suspected of being a hit man for a drugs cartel in Mexico was eventually captured. Edgar Jimenez, known as 'El Ponchis' (The Cloaked One) had worked as a hit man for a Morelos drugs gang, based just outside of Mexico City. CNN said that there were videos of him torturing people and that the videos were so horrendous, they couldn’t be shown on TV. He was also known as the child executioner for the South Pacific Cartel.

The boy was caught as he attempted to flee to the U.S., having boarded a plane in the city of Cuernavaca. The army said he was with his two sisters, one of whom was reportedly the lover of a cartel boss. They were apparently trying to get to Tijuana on the U.S. border to then travel to San Diego where their mother lives. Lugo admitted, he was born in San Diego, California and was being raised by his grandmother in Mexico. The U.S. State Department hasn’t released a statement confirming Lugo as a U.S. Citizen.

One of his sisters, aged 16, was also allegedly involved in the criminal gang. She apparently disposed of her brother's victims by dumping the bodies on streets and freeways, officials said.

Another teen sister accompanying them was not suspected of being involved with the cartels. The siblings were living in a poor neighbourhood of Jiutepec, a working-class suburb of Cuernavaca, known as a weekend getaway for Mexico City residents. The area has an industrial area with Nissan, Unilever and other factories and has rustic single-level concrete homes and some farms.

After being taken into custody, Jimenez and his sisters were transported to a local office of Mexico's attorney general where the boy confessed to his role in gruesome killings to waiting reporters.

'I participated in four executions, but I did it drugged and under threat that if I didn't they would kill me', the teen said calmly.

In an army statement, Jimenez admitted to killing at least seven people while under the influence of drugs provided by a cartel leader.

Jimenez and his sister are suspected of working for the South Pacific Cartel run by Hector Beltran Leyva whose brother Arturo was killed by Mexican Marines last year.

Leyva has been blamed for the increase in violence in the region this year, said to be over his control for power.

Jimenez said that he was employed by the cartel when he was just 11-years-old.
Mexican newspaper La Razon reported last month that El Ponchis was paid $3,000 for each murder he committed.

Authorities in the troubled country say crimes committed by minors have risen across Mexico this year.Offences ranging from stealing to murder are on the rise with parents saying children as young as eight want to grow up to be a drugs lord. Watching the wealth of the corrupt world is appealing to some of the children who see it as a way out of their poverty-stricken lives.

Other young boys have been enlisted to work for the cartels who sometimes post videos of interrogations to expose the crimes of their rivals online. In one video, a youth admitted to taking part in random killings. When we don't find the rivals, we kill innocent people, maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver', one teen said.

Attorney General Pedro Luis Benitez said that the young boys are easily manipulated. He said: 'These minors are still not fully developed and so it is easy to influence them, to give them a gun, pretending it is plastic, that it is a game'. Mr. Benitez added: 'They're persuaded to carry out terrible acts, they don't realize what they are doing'.

President Felipe Calderon who launched an offensive to crack down on the cartels four years acknowledged that as quickly as they arrest young boys, more are being recruited. In the most violent areas of the country, there is an unending recruitment of young people without hope, without opportunities'.

Offenders under 18 are prosecuted in a separate legal system for most of their crimes. But they are calls for both the overcrowded adult prison system and that for the young boys to be reassessed.

The 14-year-old American citizen was jailed for three years after telling authorities he beheaded four people whose bodies were hung from a bridge.He was given the maximum sentence allowed for a minor in Morelos, Mexico for organized crime, homicide, kidnapping, and drug and weapons possession.

A video shot by CNN in December showed the boy being interrogated by Mexican military authorities after his capture. In the video, an interrogator asks: 'How many have you killed,' as Jimenez responds, 'four'. The soldier then asks: 'How did you execute them?’ The boy calmly adds: 'I slit their throats. I participated in four executions, but I did it drugged and under threat that if I didn't they would kill me.'

He was charged in the state of Morelos with multiple murders, torture, kidnappings, crimes against the public health, possession of cocaine, including marijuana, possession of weapons reserved for the military only, and decapitations while he worked for the cartel.

He is charged in the state of Morelos with multiple murders, torture, kidnappings, crimes against the public health, possession of cocaine, including marijuana, possession of weapons reserved for the military only, and decapitations while he worked for the cartel.

The trial was to have at least 60 witnesses who were scheduled to take the stand, according to Juan Carlos Castro, spokesperson for the Morelos State Unitary Tribunal for Juveniles (UTJ).

On December 2, he was taken into custody at the Mariano Matamoros Airport in Cuernavaca, Morelos by the Mexican military while boarding a flight to Tijuana along with one of his sisters. Military police found two weapons, including a semi-automatic 9mm handgun on Lugo’s luggage, small bags of cocaine and marijuana were found on Lugo and cell phones with photos of his victims while being tortured and killed, according to the preliminary arrest report.

Two of Lugo’s sisters, Elizabeth Jiménez Lugo, 19, and Lina Éricka Jiménez Lugo, 23, were also taken into custody. El Ponchis alleged mother, Yolanda Jiménez Lugo who lived in San Diego was taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol shortly after he was arrested. Her husband, Gabriel Manuel Aguirre was arrested along with Yolanda. She has two children with Aguirre.

In 1997, Yolanda was convicted on one count for possession and intent to distribute cocaine. She served 90 days in jail and was given three years probation, but was deported, according to court records in San Diego County.

El Ponchis and his sisters resided in Tejalpa, within the municipality of Jiutepec. He worked under Jusús Radilla Hernández or Julio Jesús Padilla Hernández, aka, “E Negro,” leader of the SPC who is wanted by the Mexican government. One of Lugo’s sister is expecting a child from El Negro.

El Ponchis confessed to killing at least four people in Cuernavaca and hanging some of the corpses in a local bridge. He told authorities that he was kidnapped at the age of 11, then was forced to take drugs and threaten to be killed by El Negro, if he didn’t torture, killed and decapitate his victims,

The powerful cartels hire adolescents like Lugo to do their dirty work. These kids are cheap, bloodthirsty, and they know the government can't punish them much.

President Felipe Calderon claims to be winning the struggle against criminal calamity, which has killed more than 34,000 people. But the supply of thugs seems endless. Places like Tejalpa — a gang graffiti-scarred former farm village nestled in a valley known for its eternal spring weather — keeps churning them out.

"These are youths who almost all come from poor communities, with little education and dysfunctional families," said Lissette Jasso, staff psychologist of the juvenile court that will try Jimenez.

"These children grew up practically alone or with very little supervision," Jasso said. "So they go to the street. What do they find in the street? A criminal atmosphere."

But millions of Mexico's kids are growing up poor and rootless. The surprise perhaps isn't that some of them turn vicious but that the vast majority of them don't. The violence blamed on Jimenez remains an aberration even on the harsh streets of Tejalpa.

Born in San Diego, Jimenez came as an infant to live with his father's family in Tejalpa after his undocumented immigrant parents ran afoul of addictions, the law and each other.

He lived in a home crowded with adults - his grandmother, father, an aunt and uncle - and with his five siblings. He dropped out of school after the third grade.

He acquired his El Ponchis nickname — a play on Mexican slang for a bull-like body type — when he was a toddler, his father says.
Tejalpa is much like many sweat-of-the-brow communities across rapidly urbanizing, ever-more-industrialized Mexico. People flocked here from rural villages for jobs at the nearby industrial park that pumps out soaps, shampoos, Japanese sedans and other sundries.

Many teenagers prefer to congregate at night in the concrete square in front of the church. Gathering in gangs of 10 or 20, they skateboard, paint graffiti, nurse grudges, talk trash.

"El Ponchis could have been one of those boys," said Francisco Ramirez, a 26-year-old lay leader at the Catholic Church. "You can say there's nothing wrong with them gathering. But bad things come of it."

Authorities began frantically searching for Jimenez in November after two videos shot with cell phones went viral on the Internet. Each of the videos shows a different man, his mouth covered with tape and bound body dangling from the ceiling like a piñata as abductors took turns beating him with a club.

"Hit him, hit him, hit him. Don't lose your aim," young voices chorus off-camera, repeating the song that accompanies the smashing of a piñata at children's parties.

A child's giggle sliced through the deep-voiced chuckles of the older executioners as the abducted men were savagely beaten. Investigators believe the giggle belongs to Jimenez.

"I didn't join," Jimenez told reporters of a gang life that began at age 11 and ended when soldiers arrested him as he tried to board a plane for the California border along with two older sisters. "They pulled me in."

In recent years, the once-relatively harmless street gangs of Tejalpa linked up with Beltran Leyva crime syndicate, officials say. Gang members started controlling local drug sales, working as enforcers for older gangsters.

The Beltran Leyva organization controlled illegal drugs and other vice along the corridor from Acapulco into the working-class suburbs of Mexico City. Its members fell into rival factions following the killing in Cuernavaca by Mexican marines of clan boss Arturo Beltran Leyva in 2009.

Some 340 gangland executions were tallied in and around Cuernavaca last year as those factions tried to sort themselves out. The gang Jimenez hung with went to work for one of them. Police say one of the boy's older sisters dated the local Beltran Leyva boss who directed abductions and murders.

If he didn't kill, Jimenez said in his videotaped meeting with reporters, he would have been killed himself. The boy said he was paid $2,500 for each slaying. Good jobs in Tejalpa pay $100 a week.

"At that age, human beings are very impulsive, and the impulsiveness feeds more violent conduct," Jasso, the court psychologist, said of street gangs in places like Tejalpa. "They want to be good at something. Some of them say, 'I am good at killing.'"

His confession wasn’t admissible in court. But state prosecutors charged him with murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and carrying restricted firearms.

"He's done nothing of what they say he has," said his father, David Jimenez, upon opening the metal gate of the family home one morning last week. "He was just going around with a group of kids. We are a normal family."

Jimenez will be released in 2014 under reforms to protect youngsters from Mexico's famously unjust justice system.

"Even if he killed 100 people, the maximum he could get is three years," said Armando Prieto, the juvenile court judge who will helped preside over Jimenez's trial.

He added, "That's in Mexico's Constitution." There is a section in the Constitution in Peru that states that no matter how many people an adult kills, he can't be sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. One killer who killed over 350 children in Peru was released from prison after serving the maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

People being incarcerated in Mexico's federal prisons have more than doubled in the last two years.

In 2008, there were about 4,500 inmates in jail - now there are 11,000 which has been accredited to the government's crackdown on the drug cartels. 2010 is on track to have the highest rate of killings in the country. More than 28,000 Mexicans have been murdered in the past four years.

A Mexican judge sentenced the teenage U.S. citizen to three years in prison for homicide, kidnapping and drug and weapons possession. Authorities say the teen confessed to killing four people whose beheaded bodies were found suspended from a bridge.

Edgar Jimenez Lugo, known as "El Ponchis," was given the maximum sentenced allowed for a minor in the central state of Morelos, said state prosecutor Jose Manuel Serrano Falmerol. Jimenez was tried in a state court because Mexico does not have a justice system to try minors at the federal level.

I don't accept the boys statement that he had to do the killings. He was paid thousands of dollars to kill people. If he didn't want to continue killing people, he could have fled the country. He certainly had the money to flee Mexico and return to the United States.

I doubt that he will go back to Mexico City. He will probably be sent back to the United States. As an American citizen, Jimenez will be free to move to the United States upon regaining his freedom. That might prove the teenager's best option. It is the people in that country who will have to face the prospect of having such a horrible killer living in their midst.

I am very concerned that a 14-year-old who had committed those horrendous crimes would only get three years in prison. What is he going to be like when he is released?

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