NEW YORK -- Crusading journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue was killed 14 months ago on orders from the "highest levels" of a Colombian drug cartel because of his articles about the group, officials said in announcing the indictment of two suspects in the murder.
Charged yesterday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn were John Mena, 24, who allegedly ordered the killing on behalf of the Cali cartel, and Alejandro Wilson Mejia Velez, 18, the accused trigger man. Mr. Mena has been in jail since last June on a drug charge, and Mr. Mejia was arrested Saturday outside a rooming house in Miami.
Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said "several" other suspects are in custody but refused to offer details because of a continuing investigation. "We now have in custody most of those directly responsible for this murder," she said.
"It is believed the order for this murder came from the highest levels of the Cali cartel in Colombia," Ms. White told a news conference attended by Mayor David N. Dinkins, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. "It is believed that de Dios was killed because of zTC his vigorous reporting on the activities of the Cali cartel."
According to law enforcement sources, charges have been lodged against at least five other suspects, including two who have agreed to plead guilty. The sources said other indictments remain under seal while authorities seek further evidence against Jose Santacruz Londono, described by authorities as one of the top drug lords in the Cali cartel.
The sources said it is believed Mr. Santacruz ordered Mr. de Dios' death because of articles he wrote about Ramiro Herrera, the brother of one of the cartel's main leaders. Herrera pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn last June to narcotics charges and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Officials at the news conference said the slaying of the journalist had been given the same attention by investigators as the murder of a police officer.
"Any murder is obviously a heinous crime, but when the victim is murdered not for revenge or out of passion but because he has reported on the truth as he has found it, we all are very much the victims here," Ms. White said.
Mr. Brown said Mr. de Dios, 49, "was killed because he had the courage to speak out -- because he exercised his First Amendment rights as a journalist."
Said Mr. Dinkins: "This murder was a callous and repugnant strike not only at one brave man but at our free society as a whole, because the silence the killers sought to create through this murder is evil's accomplice."
Mr. De Dios, the former editor of El Diario/La Prensa who was running two small anti-crime community magazines, was shot twice in the head March 11, 1992, as he sat at the bar of the Meson Asturias Restaurant in Queens.
Friends said they were relieved to know that his alleged killers had been caught.
"I always believed he was killed because of something he wrote," said Rossana Rosado, former city editor at El Diario.