No Relief for Colombian Killer of DEA Agent

     (CN) — A Colombian cab driver who helped kidnap and murder a Drug Enforcement Administration agent was properly prosecuted in the United States, the Fourth Circuit ruled.
     Edgar Javier Bello Murillo conspired with other taxi drivers in Bogotá, Colombia, through “paseo millionario,” or “millionaire’s ride” armed robberies.
     One driver would pick up an affluent-looking customer and alert accomplices in another cab to pull in behind and enter the first, armed with Tasers and knives, to rob the passenger.
     The conspirators would demand the victim’s cash, valuables, credit cards, and personal-identification numbers for bank accounts, while a third cab’s driver would block traffic.
     Soon after DEA Special Agent James Terry Watson entered such a cab on June 20, 2013, the driver stopped, pretending he had mechanical problems.
     Bello then pulled in behind in a second cab with Edwin Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, who Tased Watson while Bello stabbed the assistant attaché at least four times.
     Though Watson ultimately escaped, he later died from the stab wounds.
     Bello was arrested in Colombia days later, and a federal grand jury in Alexandria, returned an indictment for murder against Sepulveda, Bello, and four others on July 18.
     The indictment charged Bello with the murder of, conspiracy to kidnap, and kidnapping an internationally protected person; and murder of an officer and employee of the United States.
     But after Colombia ordered Bello’s extradition to the United States on all but the U.S. employee murder count on June 18, 2014, a federal judge in Alexandria, Va. dismissed that count.
     The court refused to dismiss the other counts on Nov. 6, however, tossing aside Bello’s claim that his due process rights were violated by prosecuting him in the United States.
     Bello then pleaded guilty to murdering and conspiring to kidnap an internationally protected person, and the government dismissed the kidnapping charge.
     The court sentenced Bello to 440 months — 36-plus years — in prison on April 16, 2015.
     Bello timely appealed, again claiming due process violations.
     But the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling Tuesday.
     “Bello’s due process claim thus rests solely on the premise that his prosecution in this country was fundamentally unfair, because he did not know that Agent Watson was an American [internationally protected person] and thus could not have foreseen being hauled into a United States court for the offenses he committed in Colombia,” Judge Robert King wrote for the three-judge panel. “We explained in United States v. Brehm [in 2012], however, that ‘[f]air warning does not require that the defendants understand that they could be subject to criminal prosecution in the United States so long as they would reasonably understand that their conduct was criminal and would subject them to prosecution somewhere.’
     “Simply put, a defendant is ‘not ensnared by a trap laid for the unwary’ when he has engaged in conduct that ‘is self-evidently criminal,'” King continued. “Because kidnapping and murder are ‘self-evidently criminal,’ it was not fundamentally unfair to prosecute Bello in the United States.”
     The International Protected Person Convention, which went into effect in 1977, and was adopted by Colombia in 1996, gave Bello enough notice to satisfy due process, the ruling states.
     “When an [internationally protected person] has been kidnapped or murdered in Colombia and the Colombian authorities have apprehended the alleged offender, the Convention affords Colombia the option of prosecuting him or extraditing him to the country that accorded the victim his [internationally protected person] status,” King wrote.
     The judge added: “that global notice alone is sufficient to quell any concern that Bello’s prosecution in the United States for his crimes against Agent Watson contravened due process.”
     John Kiyonaga, Bello’s Alexandria, Va.-based attorney, said “I respectfully disagree with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, which unconstitutionally expands U.S. jurisdiction.”
     “A petition to the Supreme Court shall follow,” Kiyonaga added.
     Justice Dept. spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the ruling.

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