After they killed nine people in 2019, a federal judge ordered a Mexican drug cartel to pay $4.6 billion to their families.
The ruling comes after the Juarez cartel ambushed three SUVs full of U.S. citizens leaving their Mormon community in Northern Mexico, where they sprayed the caravan with gunfire before setting the vehicles on fire, killing three women and six children in the process.
According to the Associated Press, U.S. Magistrate Judge Clare Hochhalter from North Dakota awarded the families more than $1.5 billion, which is automatically tripled under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act. Although the government can freeze the assets of terrorist organizations, it’s unclear if the cartel has any assets with the U.S. Treasury Department.
Members of the cartel were not present or represented at February’s trial after they were served summons through publication in Mexican newspapers, according to The Bismarck Tribune
“We went into a United States courtroom in North Dakota seeking some acknowledgement of and measure of justice for the trauma inflicted on our family and we received it,” said David Langford, one of two widowers of the women killed, according to the AP.
He and other family members filed civil lawsuits in 2020, which were consolidated into one suit. Several family of the victims were working in the oil industry in N.D. while traveling back and forth to the offshoot Mormon community in Mexico.
The victims included Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, David’s wife Dawna Langford, 43, and their two children Trevor Langford, 11, and 2-year-old Rogan Langford. Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30 and her children Howard Miller, 12, Krystal Miller, 10, and 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana Miller. Eight children survived and sought help.
According to The Tribune, an expert testified that some victims “were alive and conscious” after the initial hail of gunfire, which caused one vehicle to explode before the gunmen lit the others on fire, “a signature move” of the cartel.
Dr. Sebastian Schubl, director of medical operations at the University of California-Irivne Health Administration, said burning is “arguably the worst way you can die” in his testimony, adding: “So you’re not only burning to death after being shot, but you’re also suffocating. You’re asphyxiating because there’s no oxygen left in the air. It’s just fire.”