Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacarias, a federal judge in Mexico, was gunned down while jogging not far from his home in Metepec, west of Mexico City, on October 17.
It is not yet known who was behind his killing, but attention immediately turned to the cartel figures whose cases had passed before him.
Bermudez had dealt with a case involving Abigael Gonzalez Valencia, the head of a organized-crime group tied to the ascendant Jalisco New Generation cartel.
He had also handled legal challenges filed by lawyers for Miguel Angel Treviño, the currently jailed boss of the brutal Zetas cartel.
But sources within Mexican security agencies say Bermudez’s death was the result of his brief dealings with the extradition case of Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
“Two independent sources … indicate that it was Sinaloa behind it, primarily as a result of … the issues with the extradition of Chapo Guzmán,” which Guzmán is fighting “to the hilt,” Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider.
According to Vigil, the killing was the result of the cartel’s dissatisfaction with how the extradition case was proceeding against Guzmán.
Bermudez suspended the extradition case against Guzmán in March this year, two months after the kingpin was recaptured in northwest Mexico. (Guzmán has broken out of Mexican prisons twice, in early 2001 and in mid-2015.)
“So the judge, knowing that he was in danger, decided to play the middle of the road, because he knows that the Peña Nieto administration wants to get rid of Chapo Guzman. They just cannot withstand a third escape,” Vigil, author of “Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel,” told Business Insider.
“And they know that time is on Chapo Guzman’s side, so they want to extradite him but they’ve got to go through the legal process. The judge, not wanting to deny the extradition, plays the middle of the road by suspending it, trying to placate the Sinaloa cartel, but that doesn’t work,” Vigil added.
Bermudez also authorized some measures against the Sinaloa kingpin’s organization.
A week before Guzmán was captured, Bermudez issued an order permitting the interception of communications of Emma Coronel Aispuro, Guzmán’s current wife. (Coronel recently lodged complaints with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission about her husband’s alleged mistreatment in jail.)
Cartels in Mexico have long used inducements to influence public officials and law enforcement in Mexico — the Sinaloa cartel is known for extensive networks of bribery, but it, like other criminal groups, has not shied from more brutal measures.
“Their biggest tool in their arsenal of violence is intimidation. They intimidate judges. They intimidate politicians. They intimidate journalists,” Vigil said. “And he received, according to my sources, death threats a few days before he was killed.”
There is a system in place in which judges who receive threats or feel in danger can request protection from the Federal Judicial Council, and in 2012, 21 judges and magistrates had bodyguards assigned to them, according to El Universal columnist and security analyst Alejandro Hope.
But the Federal Judicial Council told Vice News two days after the killing that it could not divulge any information about security assistance given to judges or if Bermudez had made any requests for protection prior to his death.
While a federal judge has not been killed since 2006, Hope noted, lethal violence against officers of the court at the local level is more common. And many other judges in Mexico have been implicated in corruption schemes.
“The judge that was killed in Metepec was unfortunately another example of if they can’t intimidate you, they will eliminate you,” Vigil said.