Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teen who killed for drug cartel returned to U.S. from Mexico

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MEXICO CITY -- Mexican prison authorities on Tuesday released a teenage U.S. citizen who admitted to decapitating four people on behalf of a drug cartel and escorted him to the Mexico City airport, where he boarded a flight for San Antonio, Texas.

Edgar Jimenez Lugo, who was born in San Diego and is now 17, finished a three-year term at a juvenile detention facility for drug trafficking and participating in organized crime. He faces no charges in the United States.

The widely publicized case of Jimenez, who's known by the nickname "El Ponchis," both repulsed Mexicans and drew sympathy for a childhood lived largely on the streets. His parents were Mexican immigrants.

Soldiers arrested the mop-haired Jimenez, then age 14, on Dec. 2, 2010, as he tried to board a flight from Morelos state to Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. He later confessed to working for the South Pacific Cartel, a crime group based out of Acapulco and active in Cuernavaca, a resort in Morelos southwest of Mexico City.

In a blood-chilling confession hours after his arrest, Jimenez admitted he belonged to the drug-trafficking group and was involved in the killing of four men.

Asked how he murdered them, Jimenez responded: "I cut off their heads." A gruesome video of the beheadings later surfaced on the Internet. The bodies were found under a bridge.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission later criticized soldiers for trotting the youth before television journalists and allowing them to videotape an interrogation of a minor. During that interrogation, Jimenez said he carried out his first homicide at age 11.

The top security official in Morelos state, Jorge Messeguer, said Jimenez was to be met by his mother in San Antonio. Messeguer told Milenio Television Jimenez would be placed in a live-in rehabilitation centre there.

The Spanish-language Telemundo network reported Jimenez arrived in San Antonio in the afternoon.

Messeguer portrayed Jimenez as less a perpetrator than an adolescent hostage of a gang.

"He started out as a child having contact with a series of crime gangs that took him along on a series of atrocities that none of us in our right minds can comprehend," Messeguer said.

Messeguer tweeted the interest of the Morelos state government is that "El Ponchis is under the best conditions because he was also a victim."

He said Jimenez had received psychiatric treatment while under detention in Morelos. He indicated Jimenez's sentence called for him to be held until Dec. 2.

"Because he is a U.S. citizen, and since both he and his family opted for his return to his country of origin, the decision was made to release him a few days early," Messeguer told Radio Red.

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 A9

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