Three years after a jury convicted Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life without parole, reports the Houston Chronicle. “It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” in prison. “I am no one.” She is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.
The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences. “Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, a federal agent for 30 years and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.” Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. She refused to plead guilty and went to trial. In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial. Of the defendants who didn’t plead not guilty, 10 defendants were acquitted at trial. Also, 82 saw their cases dismissed. The statistics are similar nationwide.