2 convicted of kidnapping slain US drug trafficker

AP News
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Posted: Apr 01, 2011 8:05 PM
2 convicted of kidnapping slain US drug trafficker

A Texas jury has found two men guilty of kidnapping an American drug trafficker found slain in Mexico in 2009.

The West Texas Federal Court jury on Friday found Cesar Obregon-Reyes and Rafael Vega guilty of abducting Sergio Saucedo from his home in 2009. Prosecutors say they kidnapped Saucedo for a Mexican drug cartel in what was a rare case of drug war violence spilling into the U.S.

Saucedo's was found dead with his hands chopped off on a street in Juarez, across the border from El Paso.

The two defendants were each convicted of three lesser counts as well.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Witnesses for two men accused of kidnapping an El Paso man later found dead in Mexico told the jury the suspects weren't at a New Year's Eve party where a prosecution witness says one of them was heard bragging about the crime.

A federal jury was deliberating Friday after closing arguments in the trial of Cesar Obregon-Reyes and Rafael Vega. They are accused of abducting Sergio Saucedo from his home in 2009, allegedly for a Mexican drug cartel in what would be a rare case of drug war violence spilling into the U.S.

Omar Obregon-Ortiz, the third man indicted for the crime _ also known as Taylor and who at the time of his arrest gave an incriminatory testimony against the two defendants _ pleaded guilty last Friday and will be sentenced separately.

Richard Esper, Obregon-Reyes attorney, asked the jurors to ponder if a bus driver testifying that she saw the defendant at the scene of the crime for about seven seconds was more credible than Saucedo's wife saying she could not identify him as one of the men that broke into her house, bound her and her husband and kidnapped him in front of their children.

"She said she could not identify anyone," rebutted prosecutor Brandy Gardes.

Vega's defense attorney, Robert Perez, insisted that a head count from the Dismas Charity's halfway house where Vega was interned at the time of the abduction that show he was there the whole day the crime was committed. "Dismas Charities was a sieve", anyone could get in or out, Gardes said.

The prosecution reminded the jurors of testimonies by former inmates, the director of Dismas in El Paso and other employees who said that at least 24 times during the three months Vega stayed there, he was shown either present or away, when a computerized fingerprint system showed otherwise. Perez acknowledged that even if the records "are not 100 percent reliable ... they are pretty reliable."

A prosecution witness said that he and Saucedo had been dealing drugs for more than 16 years. The witness, who testified under an assumed name, also said that the drug cartel leaders who owned of a 670-pound marijuana shipment that was seized by US authorities were angry at Saucedo for lying to them about the date of the seizure. Another witness claimed that Vega told someone over the phone that they "picked him up" and that in return he had gotten a Jeep, $7,000 and some cocaine.

Before resting Thursday, the defense brought in several witnesses to confirm that Vega and Obregon-Reyes had not attended a New Year's Eve party, where a prosecution witness said Vega bragged about the kidnapping. Vega's sister testified Wednesday that they were at a party at her house the last night of 2009 and that they never left. However, her husband said Vega and his girlfriend eventually left.

The "case is built on a couple of witnesses that say `we heard X, Y ,Z," said Perez.

Denisse Ruiz, a former girlfriend of Vega, testified that they left to go to a party with her parents that night. The defense blamed inconsistencies on the vast amounts of alcohol consumed that night. All of them were consistent in saying that the next morning they ate `menudo', a soup made of cow tripe and corn kernels, locally reputed as a hangover cure.

Gardes also talked about a covert recording made after their arrest as they were being transported where both men discussed their situation. There, she said, Vega told Obregon-Reyes, that "we need to get Taylor to retract" and that if "Taylor only stayed quiet you would have been deported and they would not have bothered me". Esper said that in that tape Obregon-Reyes "said several times he told detectives he didn't do it".

Esper also asked the jury to not judge his client because of a burglary he confessed he participated in a month before the kidnapping. The prosecution had a victim of the burglary recount the events of Aug. 3, where her house was burglarized by Obregon-Reyes and other men. There they brought a three-liter bottle of Coca-Cola and used Clorox to wipe off evidence. Also, at Saucedo's house, investigators found a bottle of Coca-Cola, that the perpetrators brought and bleach was also used.

Obregon-Reyes' defense attorney told the jury that those similarities don't indicate his client was also at Saucedo's house and that it could have been one of the other men that committed the Aug. 3 burglary.