Originally published on September 6, 2014, at NationofChange.org
An extradited Colombian national pleaded guilty this week to aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person and conspiracy to kidnap an internationally protected person. On June 20, 2013, DEA Special Agent James Terry Watson stepped into a cab in Bogota, Colombia. In an attempted robbery gone wrong, Watson was stabbed four times and bled to death. Six other men have been extradited and charged with their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Watson.
After watching the NBA Finals at a restaurant with friends, Watson left by himself and entered a cab. Video footage revealed a second car pulling up behind Watson’s cab at an intersection as two men exited the second vehicle. They immediately entered the back of Watson’s taxi. A few moments later, Watson escaped from the cab and fled down the street before collapsing.
Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez admitted to using fake taxis to lure wealthy people into their cars, kidnap them, and force them to withdraw money from an ATM. He confessed to targeting Watson with the intent to rob him, but insisted he never knew Watson was a federal agent.
After picking up Watson, Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero pulled up behind them dropping off Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda and Edgar Javier Bello Murillo. They entered the back of Watson’s cab attempting to restrain him, but Watson fought back. Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda allegedly punched and tasered Watson, while Edgar Javier Bello Murillo stabbed him three times in the chest and once in the leg. Watson battled his way out of the cab and ran down the street as the taxi fled. Watson died shortly afterwards at a local clinic.
With the help of an informant, Colombia’s police intelligence apprehended the conspirators within days of the murder. Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, Hector Leonardo Lopez, and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia have each been charged with second degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap. Oviedo-Garcia has also been charged with assault. Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica has been charged for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with Watson’s murder.
Before serving in Colombia, Watson had been assigned to Hawaii and Puerto Rico. He also served on three deployments to Afghanistan as a member of the DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) program investigating Taliban-linked drug traffickers. Before joining the DEA, Watson served in the United States Army and worked for the U.S. Marshals Service.
According to law enforcement officials, the FAST program has quietly been deployed to fight drug cartels in Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras. In 2011, a DEA agent was shot in the head after his squad had seized 6,600 pounds of poppy seeds and 110 pounds of opium in Afghanistan. In 2009, a helicopter crash took the lives of three DEA agents including two members of FAST returning from a joint counternarcotics mission in Western Afghanistan. Seven special forces operators also died in the crash.