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Sinaloa Cartel Co-Leader Dies of Heart Attack

Juan José Esparraoza Moreno,"El Azul", the veteran narco-trafficker and co-leader of the Sinaloa cartel along with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael Zambada-Garcia, has reportedly died of a heart attack while convalescing from an accident he had about two weeks ago in which his vertebrae was injured. He was 65.

"El Azul" spent 40 years in the drug business, first with the Guadalajara cartel, then the Juarez cartel (where at one point he was second to Amado Carrillo Fuentes,aka Senor de los Cielos) before teaming up with El Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada-Garcia as leaders of the Sinaloa Federation. [More...]

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Government Releases Tsarnaev's Scrawled Boat Note

The Government responded to several of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's motions today. In its response to his motion to suppress statements, it reprinted what Jahar has scrawled while hiding inside the boat:

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

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TX Teen Faces Potential Life Sentence for Hash Brownies

Texas teen Jacob Lovaro was caught with 1.5 pounds of baked hash brownies and cookies, plus a pound of marijuana and $1,645. in his apartment. He's facing a potential life sentence because the he used hash oil instead of pot. In Texas, the quantity of drugs used for sentencing purposes in cases involving hash oil includes the weight of the brownies, not just the hash oil.

The prosecutor in the case has issued this statement explaining why the penalty is so high. [More...]

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Oscar Pistorius Judge Orders Out-Patient Evaluation

The judge in Oscar Pistorius' case yesterday rejected forcing him to undergo a 30 day inpatient evaluation. Instead, saying it was not supposed to be punishment, she ordered an out-patient evaluation. The evaluation will take place at a hospital on the outskirts of Pretoria, and Oscar will be able to spend nights at his uncle's house, where he has been living since the shooting.

That's good news for Oscar and quick thinking by his lawyer, who suggested it as an alternative to the typical in-patient eval.. His family gave a statement afterwards, saying they were pleased by the decision.

The only people who seem disappointed are the journalists covering the trial, since it throws their schedules into disarray. [More....]

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Oscar Pistorius Trial : Prosecutorial Gamesmanship

Oscar Pistorius is back in court as his defense team continued to call witnesses.

The defense psychiatrist, Dr. Meryl Vorster, testified as to Oscar's vulnerability as a double amputee, and the prosecutor asked to have the trial delayed and Oscar sent for a 30 day mental evaluation.

This is gamesmanship. The witness clearly stated Oscar knew the difference between right and wrong. There's no indication or defense claim he was insane or suffering from diminished capacity such that he couldn't appreciate the nature of his actions at the time of the shooting.

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Oscar Pistorius: Neighbors Closest to His House Back His Version

Reading through the twitter feeds of 6 journalists I follow who tweet the court proceedings in real time (rather than the media articles published after which selectively summarize the testimony, mostly in favor of the prosecution), here's what happened at the latest court session:

The defense called two more neighbors who live closer to Oscar than the state's witnesses. They heard bangs followed by a man howling in a high pitched voice. None heard a woman crying or screaming. One is a female psychologist for the Department of Labor who lives right next door or right behind him. She replicated the howling. The state's cross-examination of these witnesses was so short the defense ran out of witnesses and the trial recessed early.

There are now four neighbors who support Oscar's version of events. These witnesses were on the prosecution's witness list but were not called by rhe state. Instead the state called witnesses who lived much further away whose testimony was remarkably different but fit their theory. If the job of the prosecutor is not to convict but to see that justice is done, the state's failure to call these witnesses speaks volumes. [More...]

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Oscar Pistorius Trial Resumes, Estate Manager Testifies

Oscar Pistorius is back in court after a two week recess. His first witness is the estate manager Johan Stander. Stander was the first person Oscar called after the shooting. He arrived at the scene almost immediately. Oscar told him immediately he mistook Reeva for an intruder.

Stander was on the state's witness list but was not called to testify. Oscar's co-counsel, Kenny Oldwage, is questioning Stander. [More...]

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Two New Defendants Added to Chicago Sinaloa Indictment

A sixth Superseding Indictment in the Illinois case charging Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael Zambada-Garcia has been unsealed. Two new defendants are named, Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega and Heriberto Zazueto Godoy.

Valencia Ortega was arrested in Nevada in September, 2013. According to a ruling by Judge Matthew Kennelly in case no. 13-cr-720 (document no. 24), the government had received information he would be traveling to Nevada from Mexico, so they quickly put together an indictment charging a single count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine from April, 2013 to November, 2013. The Government hoped that by arresting him on this indictment, he'd agree to cooperate. After his arrest, they told him and his lawyers that if he diddn't cooperate, he'd be added as a defendant in El Chapo's case. This would also conflict out his lawyers, who represent Tomas Arevalo-Renteria in that case.

He declined to cooperate, and the Government followed through on its threat. His lawyers objected, claiming adding him to the Guzman/Zambada-Garcia indictment was unfair retaliation for his refusal to cooperate. [More...]

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Pistorius Testimony Over, Back to Expert Witnesses

Oscar Pistorius has completed his testimony. The prosecutor picked apart every little detail hoping to show his version of events was not possible. The state is pushing an alternate theory, however, it sounds like it's nothing more than "it might have happened this way." He didn't get Oscar to admit that any of the elements of his theory were correct. The state's theory is predicated on an argument between the couple, and given Oscar's denial and the lack of any other witnesses present, I don't see how the theory can be considered proved in any way, let alone by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here is the state's version, succinctly put on Twitter by reporter Barry Bateman, who has been in the courtroom every day:

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Mexico AG: Unhappy with Zambada-Niebla Deal, No Plan to Extradite El Chapo

Murillo Karam, Attorney General for Mexico, gave an interview today to Radio Fórmula during which he expressed displeasure with DOJ's recent plea deal with Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa co-leader Ismael Zambada-Garcia. (The details of Zambada-Niebla's plea agreement are here.)

He also said Mexico presently has no intention of extraditing Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the U.S. ("no tenemos ninguna intensión de mandarlo a Estados Unidos.") He added that Mexico still hasn't received a formal extradition request for Chapo's extradition. [More...]

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Chelsea Manning Clemency Rejected, Appeals to Begin

Military District of Washington commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan has rejected Chelsea Manning's request for clemency and reversal of his conviction. The press release is here. Chelsea's case will now go to the the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) for appellate review. She has excellent new civilian lawyers for the appeals, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward.

Nancy and Vicent gave a presentation last night at the Georgetown Law Center to Chelsea's supporters. Firedoglake has the details.[More...]

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Zambada-Niebla's Plea Agreement

The Government today released the plea agreement of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael Zambada-Garcia, in his Illinois case. The agreement was signed a year ago. The press release is here.

The plea agreement is here. He's cooperating, so what would otherwise be a life sentence will be less than that. He's also agreeing to a forfeiture of more than $1 billion.

His guidelines are so high -- offense level 51 (the sentencing table only goes up to level 43) -- that even with a Criminal History Category of I (meaning no significant priors), his guidelines are life in prison (not even 30 to life, or any range at all - just life.)

Since he's been cooperating and will continue to cooperate as requested, the Government anticipates moving for a reduction to a lesser sentence. It also sounds like he's in or will be in the witness protection program, since the agreement says the Government will recommend he and his family be allowed to stay in the U.S. at the end of his sentence. [More...]

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Oscar Pistorius's Cross-Examination

The press seems to be fawning over prosecutor Gerrie Nel and his "bully-ish" cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius. I was not impressed. I was glad the Judge called him out over his inappropriate sarcasm and laughter and claims Oscar's emotional outbursts were manufactured.

“You possibly think this is entertainment. It is not,” she told Nel. “Please restrain yourself.”

I don't think he proved Pistorius is lying about his account. Nel is trying to get Pistorius to admit to Nel's interpretation of the facts, and when he won't, because he doesn't agree with Nel's interpretation, he blasts him as a liar and murderer and tells him to accept responsibility.

It's not the prosecutor's job to tell a defendant to accept responsibility for the crime for which he's on trial and denies committing. It's his job to ask questions and test his version of the facts.

Unless a defendant's story is so rehearsed it never changes, there are obviously going to be minor discrepancies. It's not surprising that Oscar's memory is better on what led up to the shooting than during the moments of trauma afterwards when he realized Reeva was dead. [More...]

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Oscar Pistorius Takes the Stand

After a week of recess due to the illness of of one of the judge's fact-finders, the Oscar Pistorius trial resumed today, with the defense calling Dr. Botha The topics ranged from the angle of the bullets to when Reeva last ate and emptied her bladder. When he was done, Oscar took the stand.

From the reporters in the courtroom I follow via Twitter: [More...]

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Australia TV to Air Paid Interview with Inmate on Schapelle Corby

Jailhouse snitches are notoriously unreliable. In this country, they are a major contributor to wrongful convictions.

That isn't stopping 10 News in Australia. It's about to air a paid interview with Bali 9 inmate Renae Lawrence, doing 20 years (after narrowly avoiding the death penalty) for smuggling heroin into Bali with 8 other people. She had 2.5 kilos strapped to her body. Two of the nine are waiting for the executioner, and six are doing life.

Reportedly, Renae will claim that during a period when she and Schapelle shared a cell (with several other women), Schapelle confessed to her that she knew the drugs were in her boogie-bag. I don't buy that for a second. [More....]

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