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Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero released from prison 14 years early

by Take Two®

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A unit of the Mexican Federal Police patrols the surroundings of the Puente Grande State prison (background) in Zapotlanejo, Jalisco State, Mexico, on 9 August, 2013 where former top Mexican cartel boss Rafael Caro Quintero -- who masterminded the kidnap and murder of a US anti-drug agent in 1985 -- was informed early Friday that a court ordered his release. HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images

Last Friday, a Mexican federal court released an infamous drug lord convicted of killing a U.S. drug enforcement agent nearly three decades ago. 

Rafael Caro Quintero was a founding member of the Guadalajara cartel, one of the earliest drug cartels in Mexico. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the kidnapping and brutal murder of undercover DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985.

The episode was a turning point in U.S.-Mexican relations and Quintero's release now — just 26 years into his sentence — is re-opening old wounds. But why would Mexican authorities release a convicted killer and drug lord 14 years early?

"It was basically a technicality," said Sylvia Longmire, author of "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug War," on Take Two. "At the time, 28 years ago, they tried the men under federal statutes, whereas the charges they were brought up against were actually state level crimes, so they should have been tried in a state court instead of a federal court. That's why Quintero's conviction was overturned and he was released."

Quintero's release is part of current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto's effort to straighten out a system that has long been out of order. Even though Quintero and his cartel partners were wrongly prosecuted under federal law, his release from prison is seen as unacceptable by the U.S.

"So as far as I can tell, they are actually following the rules by doing this, unfortunately, the questions arise, why now?" said Longmire. "This is having a negative impact on US-Mexico relations. The White House is upset about it, the DEA is extremely angered by it, but it seems for now to be on the up and up."

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