MEXICO CITY -- Rafael Caro Quintero, Mexican drug kingpin accused of plotting the murder of a U.S. drug agent, was bound over for trial Thursday on federal drug trafficking charges that could net him a 40-year prison term.
Federal District Judge Pedro Elias Soto, ruled there was enough evidence against Caro Quintero and four accomplices to warrant a trial on counts of planting, harvesting and trafficking drugs, arms smuggling and conspiracy.
The judge made his ruling after examining the preliminary evidence in the form of written statements from Caro Quintero and four accomplices.
Caro Quintero, 35, who has been held in Mexico City's Northern Penitentiary since Monday, was arrested after a shootout last week in San Jose, Costa Rica.
He was charged Monday and arraigned Tuesday on the drug charges.
Caro Quintero, the reputed No. 3 man in the Mexican drug world, also may be charged with the Feb. 7 kidnap-murder of Enrique Camarena Salazar, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and Mexican pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar.
Mexican Attorney General's Office spokesmen said they could Caro Quintero could be charged with the killings in Jalisco state, where the crime occured.
Both men were kidnapped separately in the Mexican city of Guadalajara and their battered corpses were found on a remote Mexican ranch on March 5.
U.S. officials accused Caro Quintero of masterminding the crime, but the Mexican denied the allegations during his arraignment Tuesday.
At Thursday's hearing, the judge also ruled that Miguel Juarez Medina, Rodolfo Lepe Montes, Jose Albino Bazan Padilla and Jose Luis Beltran Alvarez, all accomplices of Caro Quintero, would be tried on conspiracy charges.
Soto has 12 months to convict or free the five men on the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison without parole.
Caro Quintero's defense lawyer, Oscar Jose Rojo Coronado, said he would appeal the ruling to the Mexican Supreme Court.
At his arraignment Tuesday, Caro Quintero said police beat him during questioning until he signed a confession admitting to drug smuggling and detailing bribes paid to police for protection.
Federal Judicial Police Commander Armando Pavon Reyes has been jailed on charges he took a $250,000 bribe from Caro Quintero to let the drug overlord fly out of the country after Camarena, 37, and Zavala disappeared.
Police Thursday continued questioning Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, identified as the 'godfather' of Mexican drug traffickers, who was arrested with 23 accomplices on Monday.