Mexican kidnap gang's co-leader gets 9 life terms

San Diego - The co-leader of a violent Mexican drug gang convicted of several murders was sentenced in San Diego County to nine life terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Yesterday's sentencing of Juan Francisco Estrada Gonzalez ends the longest criminal trial in county history, lasting 15 months including jury selection, U-T San Diego reported.

In January, a jury found him responsible for six murders and four kidnappings, plus an attempted kidnapping, and allegations that made him eligible for the death penalty.

The bodies of some murder victims were left in cars, dumped on roadsides or dissolved in vats of acid and buried in the Tijuana River Valley, the newspaper said.

The jury deadlocked over whether to recommend life or death, ruling out a death sentence without another trial. Estrada thanked his defense team for their work.

"Due to their tremendous effort, they succeeded in saving my life," he said in a letter read Tuesday by one of his lawyers, Keith Rutman.

Estrada apologized to the judge for any "unacceptable behavior" he might have demonstrated in the courtroom. He offered his condolences to the victims' families.

Estrada was one of the top two figures in Los Palillos, or the Toothpicks, a breakaway cell from the Arellano Felix cartel that established a foothold in the U.S., prosecutors said.

Estrada was one of 18 people indicted in connection with the gang, which prosecutors said kidnapped and held people in stash houses in San Diego County while demanding money from their families.

The kidnappings and killings happened between 2004 and 2007.

Estrada and Jorge Rojas Lopez, the head Los Palillos, were already serving life in prison without parole on previous kidnapping convictions when they were tried in the latest case. Rojas was expected to be sentenced Wednesday. (PTI)


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