A drug trafficker who used his cellphone to text photos of a man who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered during a drug deal gone south has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The office of U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy said Juan Castro-Navarro, 43, of Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced in a federal courtroom in San Diego to 182 months behind bars on a charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin.
A judge called him a “monster” who brought “poison” into the U.S. in the form of drugs.
According to prosecutors, in January 2014 Castro-Navarro used his cellphone to document the gruesome, violent torture of a man murdered in retaliation for stealing 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
Court documents show that Castro-Navarro – also known as “J” – sent graphic photos of the victim in a series of text messages to fellow drug traffickers.
He also sent the pictures to his girlfriend, telling her not to worry because he was working. In the texts, he told his girlfriend to look at a photograph and then “erase it.” In more messages, he told her again to “not to forget to erase” the images.
One photo that Castro-Navarro sent to his contacts was accompanied by this text message: “I just want you to know that I love you guys and that I’m only going to kill one more. I have never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. I’ll see you later.”
Court documents said Castro-Navarro and other traffickers were set on revenge for the drug theft. In some text conversations, they incorporated emoticons.
One trafficker, identified as “Pokemon” texted Castro-Navarro: “Did you beat him or choke him?”
Castro-Navarro replied: “The second.”
Pokemon responded: “Very well.” He also added a semi-colon and a parenthesis to denote a winking emoticon face, the documents said.
Prosecutors said the first photograph sent via Castro-Navarro’s cellphone showed a man tied and taped to a chair with his hands behind his back. The victim had a black eye and was wearing a black sweatshirt and green or gray jeans.
After sending that picture, Castro-Navarro texted this message to a fellow trafficker: “I’m so f***ing pissed and these people are doing as I say.”
In another text, Castro-Navarro told a trafficker he and his crew were “extracting information” from the victim.
In a follow-up message, he texted: “I haven’t killed him because he says he is going to bring me 20 pieces [units of narcotics].”
Castro-Navarro then sent another photo showing a person holding down the victim with one knee on the man’s back, pulling on the end of a baseball bat. The victim’s face was down on a concrete floor with his pants half off. Another person was holding the victim’s head down. A third person holding a baseball bat was also standing nearby.
Half an hour later, prosecutors said Castro-Navarro sent another picture of the victim which showed the man face-down, naked from the waist down. He had a green plastic bag over his head. A person was stepping on the back of his head while another held the victim’s arms behind his back and a third person stepped on his legs. Prosecutors said the victim’s buttocks showed signs of bruising.
Castro-Navarro texted the victim was “gone” and then said he had been choked to death.
The final photo sent by Castro-Navarro to his associates depicted the victim’s lifeless body wrapped in a blanket.
According to a prosecutor, the body of a man brutally beaten to death was found wrapped in a blanket in Tijuana, Mexico, the day after Castro-Navarro sent the graphic text messages. The victim was wearing the same clothing as the man in the cellphone photos. The violent murder was documented in a Tijuana newspaper, the prosecutor said.
Castro pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 40 kilograms of meth and two kilograms of heroin on Jan. 13, 2015. He also admitted he managed other traffickers in the distribution of the drugs within California and from California to Utah, Washington and other parts of the United States.
His charges carried a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years and a $10 million fine and a maximum of life imprisonment.
Duffy’s office said U.S. authorities did not charge Castro with murder because the victim was not a U.S. citizen and the crime occurred in Tijuana, thus the U.S. government lacked jurisdiction on that type of charge.