U.S. deports man convicted in murder of Colombian journalist Orlando Sierra

This story has been updated to clarify the initial detention of Fabio López Escobar in the United States.

Almost 15 years to the day when Colombian journalist Orlando Sierra was fatally shot, another of the men involved in that crime has been deported back to Colombia.

Officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Antonio, Texas deported Fabio López Escobar on Jan. 30, according to an ICE press release. On that same day, Colombia's National Police said they had received at the Bogotá airport a man by the alias “rama seca” (dry branch) who had been sentenced as “co-author of the events that ended the life of journalist and deputy director of newspaper La Patria, Orlando Sierra.”

In the Tweet above, the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol wrote "At this moment, North American authorities deport a coauthor of the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra, deputy director of @lapatriacom" The next Tweet reads "Thanks to international cooperation we achieved his capture in the U.S. with the help of @ICEgov and @INTERPOL_HQ"

Colombian National Police said INTERPOL Colombia had issued a red notice against “rama seca." On July 12, 2016, INTERPOL-U.S. confirmed his relocation for violating immigration laws.

According to ICE, border patrol arrested López Escobar near Hidalgo, Texas on Feb. 7, 2016 and he was transferred to ICE custody.

López Escobar faced immigration proceedings that ended on Nov. 7 and was ordered to be deported to Colombia. The order became effective on Jan. 30, 2017, according to Colombian National Police.

In June 2015, López Escobar and two other men were convicted for Sierra’s murder.

Former legislator Francisco Ferney Tapasco was sentenced to 36 years in prison for being the mastermind of the murder. Brothers Fabio and Jorge Hernando López Escobar received almost 29 years for negotiating with a group of hitmen.

It was a landmark case in Colombia as it was the first time the entire “criminal network” of a crime against a journalist had been condemned by justice, from the perpetrators to the masterminds, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish).

Tapasco was eventually captured on Nov. 1, 2015. Jorge López Escobar is still on the run.

Lawyers for the three men filed an appeal before the Supreme Court which is expected to give a decision in the coming days, FLIP reported.

Sierra, a journalist known for denouncing political corruption, was shot on Jan. 30, 2002 upon arriving to work with his daughter in downtown Manizales in western Colombia. He died two days later.

Prior to his death, Sierra told family members that Tapasco would be at fault if anything happened to him, as he had written several columns about the politician and corruption, according to El Espectador.

The infamy of his murder overshadowed the spirit of a generation of journalists who found inspiration in him and that is why justice is an incentive for his former colleagues, relatives and defenders of freedom of expression in the country,” FLIP wrote in a note of remembrance published on the anniversary of Sierra’s death.

The following people have also been convicted in the case: Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, Francisco Antonio Quintero Tabares and Luis Arley Orozco.

FLIP said that despite the convictions in this case, it was “not exempt from irregularities, negligence and omissions.” It noted, among other examples, that Tapasco initially was acquitted in the homicide on Dec. 24, 2013 when courts were on vacations.

“In spite of the obstacles, Sierra’s case is an example that culprits can be investigated and sentenced. But FLIP insists, justice should not limp so much,” the organization wrote.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.