2 convicted of kidnapping slain US drug trafficker

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A jury on Friday convicted two men of kidnapping an American drug trafficker from his home near El Paso two years ago, five days before he turned up dead with his hands chopped off in a city across the border in Mexico.

The West Texas Federal Court jury found Cesar Obregon-Reyes and Rafael Vega guilty of abducting Sergio Saucedo from his home on Sept. 3, 2009. They could be sent to prison for life when they are sentenced in July. Attorneys for both men said they would appeal.

Prosecutors say Obregon-Reyes, Vega and a third man, Obregon-Ortiz, kidnapped Saucedo under orders of a Mexican drug cartel in what was a rare case of drug war violence spilling into the U.S. Saucedo's body was found on an unpaved street in Juarez, across the border from El Paso.

Obregon-Ortiz, who gave incriminating testimony about the other two men after his arrest, pleaded guilty to undisclosed charges last week and will be sentenced separately, court documents indicate.

Obregon-Reyes and Vega also were convicted of three other counts Friday, including conspiracy to kidnap and kill in a foreign country, and interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering.

"We are going to appeal, I think we have pretty good chance there," Vega's attorney, Robert J. Perez, said after the hearing.

Friends and relatives of the defendants wept as they listened to the jury's verdict.

"Before this, I wanted to become a prosecutor. I wanted to work with the system. Now I'll become a defense attorney to defend innocent people like my cousin", Vega's cousin, Maria Biddlestone, said after the hearing.

During the trial, a bus driver testified that Obregon-Reyes was among a group of men she saw shoving another man into a SUV. Two other witnesses testified that they heard Vega bragging at a party about the abduction and the money, car and drugs he received as payment. Prosecutors also presented an undercover recording in which the defendants were heard discussing a defense strategy and how Obregon-Ortiz had wronged them by talking to detectives.

Defense attorneys argued that Saucedo's wife - who admitted on the witness stand that her husband was a drug trafficker - could not identify the kidnappers, and that it was therefore unlikely that the bus driver could do so after allegedly seeing the abduction for less than 10 seconds. A defense witness also testified that they never went to the party where Vega allegedly bragged about the abduction. They also cited excerpts from the recording in which Obregon-Reyes is heard saying that, when questioned by detectives about the kidnapping, he had told them he didn't do it.

A convicted drug trafficker, testifying under an assumed name, said he and Saucedo had been distributing drugs in the U.S. for more than 16 years and that the owners of a 670-pound marijuana shipment that was intercepted at a Border Patrol checkpoint east of El Paso were angry at Saucedo for lying to them about the date it was seized.


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