Colombia drug lord's most loyal assassin courts Hollywood upon early release from prison
BOGOTA — A man who confessed to hundreds of murders as head of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's army of assassins has been freed from a maximum security prison under heavy police guard.
John Jairo Velasquez, better known by his nickname “Popeye,” was paroled Tuesday evening despite protests from relatives of his many alleged victims.
He had spent 22 years behind bars for plotting the murder of a former presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan, during the campaign for the 1990 presidential election.
In a string of interviews anticipating his early release, Velasquez figured that he had about an 80 percent chance of being killed by former rivals after being released. With the threat of a revenge killing lurking, he said he was considering relocating abroad. He said he also wants to sell to Hollywood the rights to an autobiography he wrote about his life alongside Escobar.
Galan, a cartel-fighting politician, had been favored to win Colombia's highest office during the apex of drug violence that engulfed Colombia two decades ago.
In a bid to fight extradition to the United States, Escobar ordered scores of assassinations — of judges, cabinet ministers, and journalists. He even downed a commercial jetliner because he believed Galan's political heir, then-President Cesar Gaviria, was aboard.
Velasquez was one of Escobar's most-trusted lieutenants during the campaign of terror, joining the capo's Medellin cocaine cartel before he turned 18.
As Colombia's bloody cocaine turf wars faded from memory, Velasquez liked to boast in frequent interviews from prison that he had killed 300 people with his own hands, including his own wife, and helped plan 3,000 hits.
But the only murder for which he was convicted was Galan's. Family members of his many other alleged victims, as well as legal experts, grasped for an explanation when a judge last week determined he was eligible for parole.
“It's really sad that an assassin who committed so many homicides was sentenced for a single murder,” said Gen. Carlos Mena, the head of Colombia's highway police who as a young officer helped U.S. authorities hunt down Escobar, who was killed by police in 1993.
Velasquez, 52, took advantage of his time behind bars to obtain a number of academic degrees and to seek forgiveness from his victims. He also provided prosecutors with testimony that led to the conviction of a former justice minister close to Escobar for involvement in Galan's murder.
But even while expressing regret about his crimes, he continued to demonstrate admiration for his former boss.
“If Pablo Escobar were to be reborn, I'd go with him without thinking,” he told El Tiempo newspaper last year.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Upscale Baghdad hotels bombed
- Motivated Syrian Kurds take fight to ISIS in contrast to failures of Iraqi army
- Islamic State group claims Shiite mosque blast in Saudi Arabia
- Nigerian president brightens hope
- Chinese artillery spotted on artificial island
- Gunmen hijack buses in Pakistan, kill passengers
- Blatter wins re-election despite FIFA corruption scandal
- Army commando team kills senior Islamic State official in Syria raid
- Officials claim world duty to Mideast at international forum
- Relentless heat wave kills more than 1,000 in India
- Nuclear talks bog down as Iran team balks at key decisions, envoys say