Colombian national pleads guilty in murder case of U.S. agent

Fri Sep 5, 2014 12:18am EDT

Colombian police officers show to the media the seven men (3rd L-2nd R) accused of killing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent James ''Terry'' Watson, at a military base in Bogota July 1, 2014. REUTERS/ John Vizcaino

Colombian police officers show to the media the seven men (3rd L-2nd R) accused of killing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent James ''Terry'' Watson, at a military base in Bogota July 1, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/ John Vizcaino

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(Reuters) - One of seven Colombians extradited to the United States to face charges stemming from the 2013 kidnapping and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent has pleaded guilty to taking part in the crime, federal officials said on Thursday.

Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31, admitted aiding and abetting others in the June 2013 killing of DEA Special Agent James "Terry" Watson in Colombia's capital of Bogota as part of a robbery-and-kidnapping ring, the DEA said in a statement. He also pleaded guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy charge.

The plea was entered on Wednesday before a federal judge in Virginia, court documents showed.

Ramirez and six others were extradited from the South American country in July in connection with the crime. He said the gang was carrying out a "millionaire's ride," luring a seemingly wealthy person into a taxi cab to be robbed, when Watson was killed, according to the DEA.

Shortly after Watson, a 13-year DEA veteran, entered Ramirez's cab outside a restaurant, two accomplices of Ramirez jumped in, jolting the agent with an electric stun gun and stabbing him, the DEA said. Watson escaped but later collapsed and died from his injuries.

"Special Agent Watson gave his life in the service of his country, and we will do everything in our power to honor his sacrifice," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

As part of his plea deal with federal prosecutors, Ramirez agreed to testify against his six co-defendants, according to court documents.

Five men - Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22 - were charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping.

Oviedo-Garcia was additionally charged with two counts of assault, and a sixth defendant, Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, was charged in connection with suspected efforts to destroy evidence.

The remaining defendants are scheduled to go on trial in January.

Ramirez is slated to be sentenced on Dec. 5. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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