Justice in Mexico

Two found guilty in cartel-related killings in San Diego

Defendant David Valencia, seen here, and José Beritán were found guilty of first degree murder in a San Diego court on May 16 for their involvement in the killing of two victims and dissolving of their bodies in acid. Photo: Union Tribune

05/22/12 – Two members of the San Diego-based drug gang known as Los Palillos, or the Toothpicks, were convicted last week for crimes of kidnapping and first degree murder. The defendants, José Olivera Beritán (38) and David Valencia (42), were found guilty of killing two people in San Diego County in 2007, allegedly kidnapping and strangling the victims to death before dissolving their bodies in barrels of acid. Beritán was additionally found guilty of first degree murder in a third victim’s death around the same time.

The remains of the bodies dissolved in acid, which were not found until 2009–two years after their mutilation, were discovered on a ranch in San Ysidro owned by Valencia. The investigation that led authorities to his property began after authorities received information from a former kidnapped victim who was held captive by Beritán and Valencia in 2007. The two were arrested along when the kidnapped individual was rescued from a home in Chula Vista, and they have been awaiting their trial in the Superior Court of San Diego since, as the prosecution took five years to build the case. The hearing, which lasted three months, was a drawn out process with prosecutors calling over 80 witnesses and presenting 700 pieces of evidence, reported the Union Tribune. Throughout the trial, the defense claimed that the evidence being presented was inadmissible given that it allegedly came from two people formerly connected with the drug gang in which Beritán and Valencia were members. Additionally, the defense attorney argued that the two informants were being cut bargains for their information and cooperation with authorities. Regardless, the case moved forward and concluded in mid-May, at which point the jury took a week to deliberate before settling on the verdict. After the May 16 ruling, the defendants must now wait for their sentencing on July 19, which will most likely be life in prison.

Beritán and Valencia both belong to the street gang Los Palillos, a group that broke away from the Arellano-Félix Organization (AFO) back in 2002 after AFO leader Ramón Arellano Félix was killed in Mexico during a shootout with Federal Police (Policía Federal). AFO had long-dominated the Baja California plaza, and specifically that of Tijuana, which is a sister-city to San Diego on the U.S. side. With Ramón’s death and the subsequent internal fracturing of the cartel, Los Palillos moved across the border to San Diego. Since 2003, the street gang has allegedly been involved in 17 cartel-style killings, which are trade-marked by their gruesome nature (i.e. dissolving in acid, beheadings, torturing), for which nine Los Palillos members are in custody, Beritán and Valencia being two of them.

Given the Los Palillos’ presence in San Diego and the oft-perceived notion of ‘spill-over violence’ affecting border cities, “Deputy District Attorney James Fontane applauded the jury and said the verdicts send a strong message that San Diego County will not tolerate the ‘brutality that we’re seeing just south of the border,” reported the Associated Press. “Today,” he continued, “justice was served.”


Moran, Greg. “Informants are lying, say Los Palillos attorneys.” Union Tribune San Diego. February 23, 2012.

Littlefield, Dana. “Two men tied to kidnapping and murder crew convicted.” Union Tribune San Diego. May 16, 2012.

Watson, Julie. “San Diego jury convicts 2 in cartel-linked murders.” Associated Press. May 16, 2012.

Martínez, Aldo. “Ex Rivales del “CAF”, Culpables.” El Mexicano. May 19, 2012.

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  1. Pingback: Burned Bodies Discovered in Arizona Desert: Another Indication of the Spillover Threat? « Justice in Mexico

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