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Agents Arrest Suspected Gunman in Roman Catholic Cardinal's Slaying

By Mark Fineman
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY

Federal agents Monday announced the arrest of one of the two principal gunmen alleged to have fired on Guadalajara's Roman Catholic cardinal more than a dozen times two years ago, a murder that continues to test the credibility of President Ernesto Zedillo's government.

The Mexican attorney general's office said Edgar Nicolas Mariscal, known as "El Negro," was captured Sunday in the Pacific coast state of Sonora, carrying an Uzi submachine gun and "fake" papers identifying him as an official of the state's transit department.

The official communique stated that another gunman - one of 24 suspects already in custody in the case - had identified Nicolas Mariscal as one of the drug-cartel hit men who participated in the killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo outside the Guadalajara Airport on May 24, 1993.

The arrest did little to advance the controversial criminal case beyond the government's original finding that the cardinal, who was dressed in clerical garb, was killed by accident in a case of mistaken identity when he was caught in the crossfire of two powerful narcotics-trafficking cartels.

After months of investigating possible motives, Zedillo's special prosecutor in charge of reinvestigating the cardinal's slaying and two other political assassinations last year - which Zedillo has promised that his government will solve - announced at a news conference in Mexico City that he had to agree with the government's initial findings. He did so, he said, "through the process of elimination."

"The motive of confusion is sustained in 158 official depositions, 80 expanded declarations and 24 interviews," special prosecutor Pablo Chapa Bezanilla told dozens of skeptical reporters and church officials on Aug. 29.

Chapa also released official testimony in which witnesses said Nicholas Mariscal and another suspect, who was killed by federal agents a year later, fired on three cars, including the cardinal's white Grand Marquis. The shootout left seven people dead, including Posadas's driver. The gunmen, who allegedly were hired by the cartel headed by the Arellano Felix brothers and fled by a commercial flight to the cartel's base in Tijuana, mistook the cardinal for rival drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera of the Sinaloa cartel, Chapa said.

Church officials and most Mexicans still doubt the official version.

Posadas was an outspoken critic of the drug cartels that have made billions of dollars using Mexico as a key smuggling route for the South American cocaine sold in the United States. Some church leaders believe the cardinal was killed to silence him; others privately suspect former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was using him as a go-between with Colombia's powerful drug cartels.