Mar/26 Mexico reduces cultists' jail time - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Mar/26 Mexico reduces cultists' jail time

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Posted: Thursday, March 26, 1998 12:00 am

By TIM LOPES

and J. NOEL ESPINOZA

The Brownsville Herald

#A Mexican court has reduced the prison terms for three cult members convicted

of murdering a University of Texas student in a ranch near Matamoros during

Spring Break 1989.

The decision didn't surprise George Gavito, a former Cameron County Sheriff's

Department investigator, but it made him relive the past.

"We thought that it (the sentence) might be reduced at one point," Gavito,

who was the lead investigator on the case on the U.S. side, said. "The main

thing is 50 years in Mexico is 50 years. They're tough years."

The Mexican appellate court reduced the prison terms for Elio Hernandez

Rivera, David Serna Valdes and Sergio Martinez Salinas to 50 years. They were

among five people sentenced to in 1994 to 67 years in prison for their roles

in the slaying of UT student Mark Kilroy and 12 Mexican citizens.

Also convicted were cult "priestess" Sara Maria Aldrete Villarreal and

Serafin Hernandez Garcia for their parts in the ritualistic murder and

dismemberment of Kilroy's body at the Rancho Santa Elena, just east of the

present-day Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios.

Authorities said Kilroy was taken to the ranch, where he was murdered, his

brain was removed and his body was cut into pieces and buried around the

ranch.

Cult members, who were active drug traffickers, believed slayings would

provide black-magic protection against discovery of their activities by

Mexican drug agents.

Because Mexico doesn't have a death penalty or life sentences,

and the maximum sentence for murder is 50 years, Gavito said the reductions

don't surprise him.

Knocking 17 years off the sentences doesn't mean much, he said.

"When they were sentenced to begin with, we thought they would get 45

years," Gavito said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his home. "If

they would've gone 10 years or 15 years, or even 20 years, then we would've

cried foul."

In cases where individuals aren't just charged with homicide, but with other

serious offenses, it's possible to receive sentences that go above the maximum

50-year term for murder, said attorney Reynaldo Camacho, president of the

Matamoros Bar Association.

"If the charges were modified, an appellate court can reduce the sentence,"

Camacho said. "The court may have determined that they were first time

offenders. It's a difficult case because there were a series of homicides."

In addition to murdering Kilroy and the others, Rivera, Valdes and Salinas

were convicted of murder, conspiracy, drug trafficking, stockpiling weapons

reserved for the use of the military and desecrating a body.

Kilroy was kidnapped near the Gateway International Bridge as he returned from

partying with friends the night of March 14, 1989. The abduction began a

bizarre chain of events that led to the discovery of a satanic slaughterhouse

at the ranch.

Mexican police found a bloody cauldron there and forced the killers to dig up

the bodies themselves. The crime so shocked the community that they had a

priest go to the ranch afterwards and spread holy water. The small wooden

shack where the murders took place was set ablaze in a spectacular show of

bright orange flames set to kill evil spirits.

In April 1989, Serafin Hernandez drove through a federal judicial police

roadblock outside Matamoros, believing he was invisible. Police traced him to

Rancho Santa Elena, where they discovered the remains of 13 victims, including

Kilroy, another U.S. citizen and a 9-year-old child.

Cult members fled to Mexico City and, a month later, leader Adolfo de Jesus

Costanza reportedly ordered de Leon to kill him as police moved in on their

hideout.

Hernandez is in the maximum security Almoloya de Juarez federal prison near

Mexico City, while Serna and Martinez are in a federal prison in Ciudad

Victoria, Tamaulipas, the federal attorney general's office in Mexico City

said.

/(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)/

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