U.S. Drops Cocaine Charges Against Colombian FARC Leader

Three years after officials hailed his arrest as a major drug war victory, the U.S. asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss cocaine charges against Colombian rebel leader Ricardo Palmera.

In 2005, Palmera became the first member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, extradited to face trial in the U.S. Palmera, who is also known by his nom de guerre, Simon Trinidad, was led into federal court flanked by marshals wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles.

"Today, we answer Trinidad's crime and violence with the only consequence traffickers fear: extradition to the United States," Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy said at the time.

Convicting Palmera has proven more difficult than expected, however.

His first trial on terrorism and hostage-taking charges ended with a hung jury. A second jury convicted him of conspiracy but deadlocked on the other charges, which were ultimately dismissed.

Similarly, the first drug trial led to a hung jury. Then, with Palmera already in prison for 60 years on the hostage-taking conspiracy charge, the Justice Department opted to try the cocaine case again, seeking a symbolic victory for the U.S. and its drug war ally, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Justice Department spokesman Paul Bresson said in March that the trial would "help solidify the department's overarching responsibility to protect public safety by holding those accountable for all of their crimes."

A month later, jurors again were deadlocked. Tuesday, prosecutors filed a short court document asking that the case be thrown out "in the interests of justice." Such requests are routinely granted.

Neither the DEA nor the Justice Department immediately returned messages seeking comment