WASHINGTON — Three men have pleaded guilty in US federal court for the 2011 killing of a US immigration and customs agent and the attempted murder of a second agent, the Justice Department said.
Julian Zapata Espinoza, 32, known as “Piolin,” a commander in Los Zetas cartel, entered his plea on Thursday, according to a Justice Department statement that also announced previous guilty pleas from two other suspects.
The three admitted to being members of a hit squad for the drug cartel and to participating in the attack on the US agents.
A fourth defendant also pleaded guilty to related charges, including racketeering and acting as an accessory after the attack on the customs agents.
All four face a maximum sentence of life in prison. No date has been set for the sentencing hearing.
US ICE agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were ambushed February 15, 2011 while driving from the northern city of San Luis Potosi to Mexico City in a region plagued by drug violence. Zapata was killed and Avila was wounded in the attack.
The killing of US agent Zapata was the first since Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was kidnapped, tortured and killed while working undercover for the US Drug Enforcement Administration 26 years ago.
Since 2006, more than 70,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 have gone missing in Mexico in a relentless wave of drug violence.