Seven Colombians charged with the murder of a US government agent appeared in court on Wednesday and will remain detained until a new hearing next week, local media reported on Wednesday.
The men appeared before the Court of the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, VA in their initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday, Bogota‘s Caracol Radio reported.
In the judicial proceedings, US Attorney General Eric Holder laid out the charges against the individuals in front of Judge Thomas Roudes, as well as the maximum sentences according to the laws of the country.
The men were extradited to the US Tuesday morning from Bogota’s La Picota jail while their families protested outside.
The US government, using an unusual legal strategy according to the Los Angeles Times, argued that the suspects could legally be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial because Watson was living in Colombia under diplomatic status. According to the Vienna convention of rules and procedures covering diplomats, the suspects could be tried under the US judicial system.
Colombian human rights advocates have fought the extradition order that President Santos signed on June 26th, arguing that the extradition has put an “unfair burden” on the families of the seven suspects, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The suspects was divided into two groups to appear before the grand jury. Edgar Bello, Hector Lopez and Andres Oviedo entered first, accompanied by court-appointed lawyers, and listened to the judge through a translator provided by the court.
The second group consisted of Gerardo Figueroa, Omar Valdes, Edwin Bello and Wilson Peralta, accused of obstruction of justice which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, Caracol Radio reported. The men were not accompanied by lawyers.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Ben’Ary explained that the accused were responding to the murder of an internationally protected person, and the kidnapping and murder of a federal employee. The charges for this sentence have a maximum verdict of life imprisonment and a fine of 250 thousand dollars, Caracol Radio reported.
The maximum sentences are not likely to be applied, owing to the extradition treaty between Colombia and the US that commits the US Courts to apply sentences set to Colombian law, the same source reported.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) press release indicates that a detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014 before US Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis.
“With the extradition of these suspects, we are one step closer to ensuring that justice is served for the kidnapping and murder of an American hero,” Holden said according to the press release.
The suspects are accused of the 2013 stabbing death of James Terry Watson, an off-duty U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DES) agent, after he entered a taxi in an upscale club and restaurant zone in North Bogota. When two men jumped into his taxi from a trailing taxi, he resisted and was stabbed to death.
The method is referred to as “express kidnapping” or “millionaire rides,” where taxi drivers force customers to drain their bank accounts at nearby ATMS. Watson had been warned to not hail a cab from the street in order to avoid this kind of confrontation, the Los Angeles Times reported.