Courts & Crime

A guilty plea in DEA agent’s kidnapping, stabbing

More than 14 months after DEA Special Agent James Watson was fatally stabbed in a Bogota taxi, a Colombian man extradited in connection with his kidnapping and murder pleaded guilty Wednesday in a northern Virginia courtroom.

Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia to aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person and conspiracy to kidnap an internationally protected person. His sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 5, 2014.

Six others have been charged for their involvement in Watson’s slaying, which resulted from a scheme in which he and other random targets perceived to be wealthy were lured into taxi cabs, kidnapped and robbed, the defendant acknowledged.

The perpetrators called it a “paseo millionario,” or “millionaire’s ride,” Gracia Ramirez admitted, in a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement. In it, he confessed to selecting Watson while driving his taxi and picking him up outside of a Bogota restaurant. Two conspirators later jumped into the car, and one used a stun gun to shock the DEA agent before the other stabbed him, the statement said.

Despite his wounds, Watson was able to escape from the taxi, but later collapsed and died, federal prosecutors said.

The trial of the other six defendants is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2015, and Gracia Ramirez’ guilty plea likely provides a boost for the government, signaling that he will serve as a prosecution witness.

“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. “This conviction is a critical step forward. But while this action represents the first measure of justice for his kidnapping and murder, it will not be the last. The Department of Justice will not rest until all those involved in this senseless act of violence have been held to account for their crimes.”

And in a statement with extra meaning, a day after Islamic terrorists beheaded American journalist Steven J. Sotloff in the Middle East, Holder declared: “Our national will never yield in the protection and defense of its citizens. And we will continue to demonstrate that anyone who seeks to harm an American will be found, will be prosecuted and will be brought to justice.”