LAREDO, Texas (AP) - The scrawny young man at the defense table was only 17, but authorities say he was already a seasoned assassin in the U.S. for some of Mexico's drug lords.
The trial last month of American citizen Rosalio "Bart" Reta, combined with the case against a co-defendant and interviews with law enforcement officials, has cast a spotlight on a new danger along the border.
Mexican drug lords locked in a bloody fight for control of a pipeline that runs from Mexico to Dallas and up through middle America have stationed hit squads and reconnaissance teams in Laredo.
U.S. authorities say that in the past two years, rival cartels have killed at least seven people in Laredo, including a victim stalked and killed near his job site and a man gunned down in the parking lot of a popular restaurant. Nearly all the victims were mixed up in the drug trade themselves.
Laredo is located just across the Rio Grande from its Mexican sister city of Nuevo Laredo, where the Mexican Gulf Cartel and its rival Sinaloa Cartel have carried out a terrifying bloodbath over the last few years.