On Tuesday, Mexico convicted a 15-year-old boy of beheading four men as a hired hit-man for a Mexican drug cartel. Edgar Jiménez Lugo, who was nicknamed "El Ponchis," was arrested in December, when police caught him trying to smuggle weapons and drugs through an airport.
Televised images after his arrest showed a wary-looking, curly-haired boy in a black sweatshirt dwarfed by heavily armed soldiers presenting him to reporters, as is the custom here for major arrests. He began to kill when he was 11, he said in a soft voice. He said that he earned $200 a week and that he did it because he was drugged and under threat.
The authorities said he confessed to killing the men, whose bodies were found last August hanging from a bridge in Cuernavaca, a weekend getaway near Mexico City.
CNN reports that the boy, who was born in San Diego, also appeared in an interrogation video in which he admits to killing four people and the BBC quotes an interview with Mexican daily La Reforma in which the boy says he started killing at 11.
"I felt bad doing it. I was forced to do it," he said in that interview. "They said they would kill me if I didn't do it."
Aside from the shocking nature of the case, the Times points out that the broader story here is the heavy lure cartels bear for young people. Cartels have long used youth as lookouts, but the Times reports that more and more they are being recruited for killing:
Of the more than 35,000 people killed in organized-crime-related violence since President Felipe Calderón began a crackdown in 2006, an estimated 5 percent have been minors.
The Mexico attorney general's office, in an October report, said the number of minors charged with drug-related crimes had increased to 810 in 2009 from 482 in 2006, a period in which thousands of federal police officers and soldiers swarmed several states to reduce crime.
Mexico's El Universal reports that Lugo will serve three years in jail, the maximum sentence for a minor. The paper adds that he is one of 12 children who have been convicted of serious crimes related Mexico's organized crime.