The Hit Man Nobody Knows

The government says he killed more people than Tim McVeigh. He lives in a cell a hundred miles from Denver. So how come you've never heard of La Quica?

The prosecutors' response to the Inspector General's report took issue with many of its conclusions. Their chief argument was that the type of explosive used was irrelevant; the government's case had relied much more strongly on twenty "cooperating witnesses," mostly former Escobar associates turned informants, who had tied Muñoz Mosquera to the cartel and the bombing.

The first time around, two jurors were curiously unmoved by the testimony of those witnesses. They believed La Quica was being scapegoated, and no amount of haranguing by their fellow jurors could change their minds. At the second trial, prosecutors Pollak and Beth Wilkinson had an even stronger lineup of snitches and a more cooperative panel.

Some of the most damning testimony came from Carlos Botero, a former major trafficker in Escobar's employ who claimed to have gone on bombing runs with Muñoz Mosquera. (One such trip, he said, involved an aborted attempt to kill the senior George Bush by firing a rocket at Air Force One.) Escobar told him La Quica had done the Avianca job, Botero testified, and Muñoz Mosquera himself had once boasted about "blowing up an airplane to kill two sons-of-bitches informants."

Muñoz Mosquera listened through headphones but showed no sign of recognizing the cooperating witnesses. He did not know them, he insisted. He was not the man they were talking about.

The jury thought he was. They found him guilty on all thirteen counts on December 19, 1994. It was the first successful federal prosecution of a terrorist for killing Americans on foreign soil, the first federal conviction for an airline bombing.

Judge Johnson seemed disappointed that Pollak and Wilkinson hadn't sought to make it a capital case. Before passing sentence, he told the defendant: "Not only are you an evil man, the things that you did, you enjoyed. These things cry out for the death penalty."

La Quica had a short speech prepared in Spanish: "I'd just like to say that God and the government know I'm innocent. Thank you very much, and God bless you."

Judge Johnson gave him ten life sentences. Plus 45 years.


In 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno presented the Exceptional Service award, the Justice Department's highest honor, to prosecutors Pollak and Wilkinson and lead DEA agent Sam Trotman for their efforts in the Muñoz Mosquera case.

Pollak is now a federal magistrate judge. Wilkinson went on to play a principal role in the prosecutions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and is now in private practice. Neither one responded to requests for comment about Muñoz Mosquera. Agent Trotman declined comment, too, saying that he needed to obtain clearance from his superiors.

Fred Whitehurst is now the director of the Forensic Justice Project, a nonprofit watchdog group that investigates crime-lab blunders. In 1997, on the day the Inspector General's report on the FBI lab came out, "I was put on administrative leave and kicked out of the building," he says. "A year later I settled a lawsuit with the FBI. It was just like I'd retired at 57. I thought it was a retirement, anyway -- until I walked out and realized they'd snookered the paperwork and put it out as a resignation."

According to Whitehurst, problems at the FBI lab continue. "[Retiring director] Louis Freeh turned the FBI from a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise to a three-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise, but none of that money was set aside for oversight," he says. "I worked the highest-profile cases the bureau had when I was there, and I tell you, the pressure to come up with the 'right' results was phenomenal. You get to a point where you have to establish your own morality."

Smashing the Medellín and Cali cartels is considered one of the great successes of the drug war, yet the cartels' demise failed to arrest the flow of drugs and violence in Colombia. It merely changed the shape of the business. Now the drug trade is controlled by smaller, more elusive groups with intimate ties to Marxist guerrillas or right-wing paramilitary movements. Some of these players were boosted into prominence by their vigilante efforts -- aided by American training and equipment -- in the crusade against Escobar.

"Colombia is reaping the whirlwind," says Bruce Bagley, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami who writes frequently on narco-politics. "There are benefits, certainly, to dismantling two of the largest criminal organizations ever seen on the face of the earth. But what we didn't anticipate were the unintended consequences of leaving a vacuum. Rather than the traditional cartels, we have the chaos that is now Colombia. The guerrillas and the paramilitaries are all fed by drug money."

Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera sits in a glass booth at ADX, serving ten lifetimes for crimes that officials in his own country say were committed by others. It's as if France had convicted John Doe Number Two, a terrorist the FBI says does not exist, for killing a Frenchman in the Oklahoma City bombing.

La Quica still can't believe it. He has documents. He has alibis. Nobody will listen to him. "They didn't care that I hadn't committed any crimes," he says. "They just wanted to use me...It's only in this country that they put those charges against me, because they thought I could lead them to Escobar...These other people confessed. The Colombian government made an investigation and determined those confessions were correct."

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