Defense attorneys believe freedom is imminent for a second member of the trio of Mexican drug kingpins responsible for the 1985 slaying of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, one of the capo's attorneys said Saturday. In the U.S., outrage grew over this week's surprise decision to overturn Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero's conviction in the notorious killing.

Caro Quintero walked free Friday after a federal court overturned his 40-year sentence in agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena's kidnapping, torture and murder. The three-judge appeals court in the western state of Jalisco ordered Caro Quintero's immediate release on procedural grounds after 28 years behind bars, saying he should have originally been prosecuted in state instead of federal court.

Also imprisoned in the Camarena case are Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, two of the founding fathers of modern Mexican drug trafficking, whose cartel based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa later split into some of Mexico's largest drug organizations.

Fonseca Carrillo's attorney, Jose Luis Guizar, said his team had filed an appeal based on the same procedural grounds used by Caro Quintero, and expected him to be freed within 15 days by a different court in Jalisco.

"The appeal is about to be resolved. We believe that the judges will stick to the law," Guizar said. "Fonseca Carrillo should already be on the street. He should be at home. At its base, the issue is the same as Rafael's. "

He said he had not spoken to Felix Gallardo's attorneys about their expectations for that case. Mexican officials did not respond to calls seeking comment Saturday.

Camarena's murder escalated tensions between Mexico and the U.S. to perhaps their highest level in recent decades, with the Reagan administration nearly closing the border to exert pressure on a government with deep ties to the drug lords whose cartel operated with near impunity throughout Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that it found the Mexican court's decision to free Caro Quintero "deeply troubling," but former DEA agents said they were pessimistic that the Obama administration would bring similar pressure to bear.

Nearly 20 years after the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S.-Mexico trade exceeds $1 billion a day. The two countries have worked closely against drug cartels over the last seven years, with the U.S. sending billions in equipment and training in exchange for wide access to Mexican law-enforcement agencies and intelligence.

The U.S. said little last year after Mexican federal police opened fire on a U.S. embassy vehicle, wounding two CIA officers in one of the most serious attacks on U.S. personnel since the Camarena slaying. Twelve police officers were detained in the case but there is no public evidence that the U.S. or Mexico pursued suspicions that the shooting was a deliberate attack by corrupt police working on behalf of organized crime.

"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of complaints about it but do we have a Department of Justice that's going to stand up for this right now? I don't think so," said Edward Heath, who ran the DEA's Mexico office during the Camarena killing. "Everybody's happy, businesswise. Trade is fine, everybody is content."

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, has been restricting U.S. access as part of a broader shift in Mexican law-enforcement strategy from taking down cartel chiefs to reducing daily violence, particularly extortion, kidnapping and homicide. That shift has raised doubts in Washington about Mexico's ongoing commitment to fighting drug trafficking, doubts that grew stronger Saturday after Caro Quintero marked his second full day as a free man, with no public sign of his whereabouts.

The U.S. alleged as recently as June that Caro Quintero continued to run an extensive drug ring from behind bars, working with the Sinaloa cartel to move drugs and launder the proceeds through a string of front businesses.

Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who closely follows Mexican politics, said Pena Nieto's government appeared to have been caught off guard by the decision to free Caro Quintero, but the capo's liberation was nonetheless a blow to relations with Washington.

"We've been asking Mexico to follow the rule of law and I don't know if this exactly the rule of law that they're following," he said. "There should have been some sort of heads up notice that this was going to happen.

"I hope this is not a foreshadowing of what might be coming in from this administration," Cuellar said. "I don't think so but the appearance doesn't look very good right now for U.S.-Mexico relations."

Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former member of Mexico's domestic intelligence service, said he had met Friday with members of the Mexico's Interior Department, which oversees most law-enforcement issues.

"They claimed to have been surprised, to have been blindsided by the judicial decision," he said.

Either way, Caro Quintero's release pales in importance next to the detention last month of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, head of the ruthless Zetas cartel, Hope said. The arrest of the man known as Z-40 was publicly praised by President Barack Obama as a sign of Mexico's seriousness about fighting drug cartels.

"Caro Quintero is the past," Hope said. "Z-40 was the clear and present danger."

The Wednesday ruling for Caro Quintero remained secret for two days, the Department of Justice said, with the U.S. learning about it Friday morning about the same time as the news media, hours after Caro Quintero left prison.

"The retired agents that I have spoken to are extremely upset," said Joe Gutensohn, president of the U.S. Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents. "They consider this just another slap in the face for our efforts to stem the drug trade in Mexico."

Mexico's attorney-general said the Jalisco court had "completely ignored" Supreme Court precedent in dismissing the case instead of referring it back to the state courts. Attorney-General Jesus Murillo Karam said he would get involved in the case but offered no specifics.

____

Mark Stevenson, Adriana Gomez Licon and Olga R. Rodriguez contributed.

___

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mweissenstein

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It

    Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.

  • Because The U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.

  • Because The United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption

    Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  • Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy

    Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.

  • Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal

    In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.

  • Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws

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  • Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba

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  • Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population

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  • Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations

    Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.

  • Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks

    The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela

    When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.

  • Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia

    When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"

  • Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels

    The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People

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  • Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World

    For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.

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  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years

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  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994

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  • Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo

    Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence

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  • Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico

    As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.