CUERNAVACA, Mexico – A 14-year-old boy accused of participating in four beheadings for a Mexican drug cartel will be tried under a state juvenile law that carries a maximum of three years in prison if convicted, a judge said Sunday.
The juvenile court judge in the state of Morelos made the ruling after a daylong hearing on whether the federal government should handle the case because of the gravity of the allegations against the boy, known as “El Ponchis.”
The judge said that Mexican law allows him to preside over cases involving minors facing federal charges and that the teenager will face charges of murder, organized crime and other allegations in the state of Morelos.
After the hearing, the boy was escorted from the courthouse by 15 state police officers. Dozens more state and federal police were stationed inside and outside the court building.
Authorities said they arrested El Ponchis on Thursday at an airport south of Mexico City with a 19-year-old sister. Mexican officials allege the boy was working for the Cartel of the South Pacific, a branch of the splintered Beltran Leyva gang. The sister has said they were headed for Tijuana, where they planned to cross the border and seek refuge with their stepmother in San Diego.
“I participated in four executions, but I did it drugged and under threat that if I didn’t, they would kill me,” the boy said when he was handed over to the federal prosecutor Friday.
Authorities identified the suspect only by his first name, Edgar.
Morelos Gov. Marco Adame Castillo has said the boy was born in San Diego, and Mexican officials were researching whether he has dual nationality. A U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to embassy policy, said earlier that American officials had not confirmed his citizenship.
As of Sunday his citizenship status was still unclear, as was the possibility of the teenager being sent to the United States.
Despite apparently being born in the United States, he grew up in a poor, urban neighborhood packed with businesses near the city of Cuernavaca, where the people who knew him said everyone called him El Ponchis since he was 4, although no one knew why.
On Saturday, a car with a speaker on its roof drove around the neighborhood narrating how the boy had been captured. The neighbors, who did not want to be quoted by name because of safety fears, remembered him as a quiet boy and said they think the allegations against him are false.
The teen’s next court date has not been set.