PHOENIX — A man was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday for his murder conviction in the beheading of a man in Arizona who police say had stolen drugs from a Mexican drug cartel.
Crisantos Moroyoqui-Yocupicio, 39, had pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the death of 38-year-old Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy at an apartment in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler on Oct. 10, 2010.
Moroyoqui-Yocupicio faced a punishment ranging from 10 to 16 years in prison when he was sentenced by Judge Joseph Kreamer of Maricopa County Superior Court. Prosecutors were seeking the maximum penalty.
Police believe the killing was intended to send a message that anyone who betrays the traffickers will get the same treatment. The case has been cited as an extreme example of Mexican cartel violence spilling over the border.
Mexico has been plagued by decapitations in the war against cartels. Headless bodies have been dangled from bridges by their feet and severed heads have been sent to victims' family members and government officials.
The Arizona beheading also played a part in the state's contentious immigration debate.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer drew criticism a month before the beheading for claiming that headless bodies were being found in the Arizona desert as she sought to bolster her argument for confronting the state's immigration woes. She later backtracked on those claims but said such violence in the broader border region was cause enough for alarm.
A Chandler police report that cites Border Patrol intelligence said Cota-Monroy had stolen 400 pounds of marijuana and some meth from the PEI-Estatales/El Chapo drug trafficking organization.
Chandler police and the Border Patrol have declined to say whether PEI-Estatales/El Chapo is the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
Cota-Monroy told the cartel that the Border Patrol had seized the drugs, but the cartel group had learned the truth and hired men to kidnap and kill him in Nogales, Mexico.
Cota-Monroy was able to talk his way out of being killed, saying he'd pay back the money and use his house for collateral, the report said. It turned out that the house didn't belong to Cota-Monroy, and he fled to the Phoenix area, leading the cartel to hire assassins to go to Arizona, befriend Cota-Monroy and kill him.
Moroyoqui-Yocupicio, a day laborer who had been living in the apartment complex where the killing occurred, is the only man to be charged in Cota-Monroy's death. Three men who were with Cota-Monroy around the time of his death are believed to have fled to Mexico.
Moroyoqui-Yocupicio's lawyer, James Hann, has said his client was intoxicated and didn't remember anything and didn't know the victim.