Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Murder 'training camp' all in a day's testimony

Killer tells jury of sledge hammer murders

Laredo – It's not the first time a jury has gotten a glimpse into the twisted world of “Cheeks” Chavez, a 23-year-old Zetas cartel hitman.

When the narcs caught him back in 2010 in a Houston dope stash house, he had cocaine on his nose and a reputation for killing that few other vatos locos can claim.

But hearsay from other admitted killers, tape recordings of people planning bloody murder and mayhem, and grainy surveillance photos were not enough to persuade a federal jury to convict him.

Even though guards armed with machine guns ringed the U.S. Courthouse at San Antonio, they didn't feel secure enough or that they had enough evidence to get comfortable with sending him away for a long, long time, so they acquitted him on a gun charge and deadlocked on two others.

He's back in court, this time for more serious charges.

Journalists remarked that when fellow hitman Wenceslao Tovar took the stand late last week, his story kind of stole the prosecutors' thunder.

It's not very pretty to think of, this matter of the Zetas' “murder training camps.”

Most such cases are settled in plea agreements, so jurors and the public never hear the details of what is taking place in the background. The fact that Mr. Chavez has refused to plead guilty to the crimes for which he is charged has prompted the rare testimony of Mr. Tovar, one of the witnesses who have appeared to testify against “Cheeks” Chavez.

No one has accused Mr. Tovar, a 26 year-old U.S. citizen who is an admitted killer of many people, of exaggerating.

Authorities uncovered the largest mass grave ever found in Mexico in a raid that took place in August of 2010 after a young illegal immigrant from South America escaped from the clutches of the men who operated a murder training site for the Zetas cartel.

They are a murderous gang of Mexican Special Forces soldiers trained at U.S. Army bases, on a ranch near San Fernando, about 60 miles southwest of Nuevo Laredo.

There, they uncovered the bodies of 177 people believed to have been killed in serial order.
The young man who escaped ran to a roadblock maintained by elements of the Mexican Marine Corps. From his neck, blood gushed from a wound where a would-be killer had cut him deeply. Without first aid, he would not have lived long.

Until then, local Mexican lawmen have little incentive to pursue the killers.

Police found the body of a Tamaulipas state prosecutor's body a few days later on a stretch of lonely road nearby. In short order, two bombs exploded outside the Nuevo Laredo morgue where they bodies of the victims had been taken for identification.

It seems the drug gangsters were sending a message.

What did all these people found in the deep pit, their place of rest after being murdered, have in common?

They were illegal immigrants headed for the U.S. on buses who were taken hostage by the cartel gangsters at impromptu roadblocks.

They have something else in common.

When they were executed, the killers-in-training didn't use guns.

They were ordered to beat them in the head with a sledgehammer until they succumbed to the blunt force trauma.

Trainees who could stomach doing the deed to satisfy the demands of the trainers, according to Mr. Tovar, were rewarded with expensive watches and fancy pickup trucks, then sent forth as sicarios, killer soldiers in the drug wars raging on the other side of the border.

Those who could not were made into halcones, “hawks,” the slang term for cartel lookouts who keep a vigil waiting for snoopy neighbors or the police.

Others were merely enslaved, used as cleaners or cooks at cartel way stations, stash houses and strongholds. They were acquiescent, if not loyal, because they knew what had happened to their fellow travelers who wound up in the pit out on the ranch near Nuevo Laredo.

Examination of the dirt-encrusted, mummified bodies found in that pit, that common, mass grave, proves they were killed with the sledge hammer.

All had been stripped of clothing, bus tickets, identification, jewelry, pawn tickets, fare receipts – anything that would help investigators get a clue as to who they are.
Until the young man with the deep cut in his neck made his break and ran to the roadblock, no one would have ever known their bodies were lying in the deep pit where they were interred.

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