Special Agent Enrique Camarena worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from 1974 through his abduction and murder in 1985 (Drug Enforcement Agency, n.d.). Special Agent Camarena was in Guadalajara, Mexico investigating a narcotics ring. After uncovering the drug trafficking ring that was headed by Rafael Caro Quintero, Special Agent Camarena (and later, his pilot) was kidnapped, tortured to prompt confession of the extent of the information pertaining to Caros drug empire he had disclosed to the DEA, and killed upon Caros orders (Associated Press, 1988).

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Following his kidnapping on February 7, 1985, the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) assigned Primer Comandante Pavon-Reyes to the case. Following up on the claims of a witness’s account of seeing a man shoved into the backseat of a light-colored compact vehicle, two notorious drug traffickers were deemed prime suspects. However, upon the Pavon-Reyes confrontation with them as they attempted to board a plane, they were allowed to depart. It would later be uncovered that Pavon-Reyes accepted a large bribe from the two men an action that heralded many further obstructions of justice (Malone, 1989).

Case Summary
Substantial evidence was able to be recovered in the case of Special Agent Camarena’s murder despite numerous difficulties. The altered state of the various crime scenes from which evidence was recovered, however, initially complicated the integrity of the investigation. Such complications arose primarily from the unethical actions by the MFJP; their acceptance of bribes and consequent repeated obstructions of investigation by various United States forensic teams adversely affected the resolution of the case (Malone, 1989).

In the initial stages of the investigation, some members of the MFJP formulated a plan alongside Mexican drug traffickers interested in quickly resolving the case. Since the United States agencies were increasingly insistent on beginning their forensic investigation, the plan was very hastily enacted. Following up on an anonymous letter stating a location that Special Agent Camarena was being held, the MFJP raided a notorious drug ranch in Michoacan. The intentions of the plan masterminds had been to have someone move the bodies (of Special Agent Camarena and his pilot) to the ranch; the haste in which the plan proceeded, with the raid and subsequent shootout, however, exceeded that of the person responsible for transporting the bodies. Therefore, the bodies had not been relocated, as planned. Instead, the bodies were discarded nearby, alongside the road (Malone, 1989).

Forensic Evidence
A passerby reported the two bodies, and they were transported to a morgue. The DEA was notified of the discovery, as well as the transport of the bodies to another morgue. When the forensics team arrived, they were obstructed from fully examining both bodies as well as only permitted to take small samples of the evidence present (as opposed to processing all present evidence). The following day, both FBI and DEA teams went to survey the area in which the bodies had been found. The lack of gravesites present at the location as well as an obvious difference in the soils at the site compared to that recovered from the bodies indicated that the bodies had been previously buried elsewhere. Once this evidence was presented, the MFJP launched a unilateral investigation resulting in the arrest and termination of several officers previously involved in the case (Malone, 1989; Weinstein, 1990).

Among the evidence recovered, hair samples matched with those known of Special Agent Camarena were discovered. Additionally, a bent license plate, later identified as being stripped from one of the vehicles used in the kidnapping of Special Agent Camarena, was also retrieved from a storm grate near the house in which he was tortured. Following its retrieval, MFJP on scene demonstrated substantially more interest in the DEA agents actions (Weinstein, 1990). The MFJP on site also called their superiors whom later arrived on the scene and halted further investigation at that time (Malone, 1989).

Even though their investigation was inhibited by the MFJP, the FBI managed to recover hair samples from the suspect house. These hair samples were later identified as matches to Special Agent Camarena and others indicted in his kidnapping and murder, including Sergio Espina Verdin (the Mexican law officer whom was the chief interrogator of Camarena). Two hair samples matching those of Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros were also found in the house; Matta asserted his innocence of any wrongdoing by virtue of not being present at the house during the time of Special Agent Camarena’s abduction/murder (Weinstein, 1990).

Plausible Improvements
Had the MFJP not interfered throughout the investigation, forensic teams would have been able to gather a more intact body of evidence from which they could subsequently construct a clearer synopsis of the crimes committed. The unethical actions of the MFJP throughout the investigation greatly impeded the case’s resolution. Furthermore, the crime scenes had been altered greatly prior to the collection of evidence. The house in which Special Agent Camarena was tortured had been freshly painted. Other obvious signs of a hasty cleaning to eliminate evidence were also present. The exhumation of the bodies and subsequent transport to a new site indicated another attempt to prematurely resolve the case by altering and obstructing access to actual evidence. These factors all complicated the collection of the evidence in conjunction with the unethical actions of various members of the MFJP. Since the kidnapping and murder of Special Agent Camarena took place in Mexico, however, the power of United States government agencies jurisdiction was limited (Malone, 1989).

  • Associated Press. (1988, July 31). Trial opens in death of tortured drug agent. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/31/us/trial-opens-in-death-of-tortured-drug-agent.html
  • Drug Enforcement Agency. (n.d.). Kiki and the history of Red Ribbon Week. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/dea/redribbon/RedRibbon_history.shtml
  • Malone, M. P. (September 1989). The Enrique Camarena case A forensic nightmare. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 58(9), 1-8.
  • Weinstein, H. (1990, June 20). Hair fibers linked to Camarena case suspect: Forensics FBI expert testifies that the evidence found in the murder house matches samples taken from one of four men on trial. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1990-06-20/local/me-174_1_hair-fibers