Culture Magazine

Do Trained Murderers Have a Code of Conduct?

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
From Azam Ahmed and Paulina Villegas, He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel. The NYTimes, 14 Dec 2019:
Murder was rarely for sport, the sicario said. He studied his victims at length, investigating the complaints against them. Once confirmed, he warned them to stop, mostly to keep them from drawing too much attention from the authorities. If they didn’t, he planned the killings meticulously, carrying them out only with approval from above.
“For me to kill someone, I had to have permission,” he explained. “Why do I want to kill that person? Not because I just don’t like them. That’s not how it works.”
He followed a code, he said. He didn’t recruit children, and wouldn’t harm women or working people, if he could avoid it. But the workings of organized crime were rarely orderly. He did kill women and innocent civilians. For all the talk of honoring a code, it was often just that: talk. Business always came first.
The New York Times confirmed many of his homicides with the authorities and attempted to speak with the victims’ families in several cases. All refused. Having lost their daughters, sons and fathers to the cartel, they were fearful of reprisals.
Of all the people the sicario killed in his five-year run, only a few haunted him, he said. One in particular.
It was during a routine operation, he recalled, when his bosses sent him to eliminate a group of local kidnappers. After he arrived, he said, he found a college student with them. The sicario said he knew instantly the student was innocent: the look of terror on his face, his body language, even his clothes. They were all wrong.
Following protocol, the sicario tied everyone up and called his boss. He wanted to let the young man go. He was unaffiliated. There was no need to kill him. But the boss said no. Any witness was a liability.
As the boy begged for his life, the sicario said he looked away and told him he was sorry before slitting his throat.
“That student still haunts me,” he said, weeping. “I see his face, that kid begging me for his life. I will never forget his eyes. He was the only one who ever looked at me that way.”
A sinner confesses:
For five years, the sicario lived as two different people: the son who dropped off groceries for his mother and had a baby of his own with his girlfriend; and the “monster,” as he called himself, who killed for a few hundred dollars a week.
After his arrest, the wall between them began to crack. He suffered what seemed like psychotic episodes, he said, sleepless nights of strange voices and shadows collapsing on him. He knew he deserved no pity, that he alone was to blame. He took some comfort in that.
“I was at the point of going crazy,” he said. “I would spend two or three days crying.”
Eventually, a pastor — an uneducated, reformed convict himself — came to see him. At first, the sicario worried the man was a spy sent by his enemies. Eventually, he began to speak to him and, before long, could hardly stop.
The pastor was caught off guard by the torrent of confessions as the sicario gave himself over to the Bible with a fervor he once held for violence, a conversion so common it is almost a cliché in the world of gangs and cartels.
“That other person is dead,” the sicario said as if, with repetition, it might become true.
He found new purpose in confinement, helping solve cold cases, testifying against cartel players and paving the way for some two dozen convictions. The police said they saw a real transformation in him, though they had their own reasons to believe it, too.

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