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Colombia high court reinstates conviction in 1989 killing of crusading anti-cartel candidate
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) ' The Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the murder conviction of a former justice minister for masterminding the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, a courageous foe of drug cartels.
The court also reinstated the 24-year prison sentence a lower court imposed in 2007 on Alberto Santofimio, who was widely considered the "political godfather" of the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Hitmen employed by Escobar killed Galan, and a key witness in Santofimio's trial said he saw the defendant urge Escobar to order the murder.
"Kill him, Pablo," testified John Jairo Velasquez, or "Popeye," who was Escobar's chief henchman at the time and has confessed to organizing the assassination.
Santofimio, a senator who had been justice minister in the 1970s, was at the time a rival of Galan for the Liberal Party's presidential nomination.
The Aug. 18, 1989, assassination badly traumatized a nation already reeling from a terror campaign by Escobar's henchmen, who killed hundreds of judges, journalists and police. Escobar also targeted civilians with car bombs, even blowing up an airplane in midflight.
The drug kingpin was trying to pressure Colombia's leaders not to extradite drug lords to the United States. Nonetheless, Galan, the presidential frontrunner when he was killed, promised to battle the narcos with extradition.
Santofimio, 69, surrendered on Wednesday to authorities. He had been freed in late 2008 by an appeals court after a year in prison. Colombia's chief prosecutor appealed that ruling.
The oldest of Galan's three sons, Sen. Juan Manuel Galan, told The Associated Press the family was pleased with Wednesday's ruling.
He said the evidence in the case "leaves no doubt as to Santofimio's responsibility in the crime against my father," who many considered Kennedyesque in his perceived moral rectitude.
Juan Manuel Galan believes, however, that other corrupt politicians and former security force members involved in his father's assassination have escaped justice.