Idaho Inmate Whose Defense Was Funded by Mexican Government Dies in Maximum Security 

click to enlarge The Idaho Maximum Security Institution is a 516-bed facility for men, south of Boise. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • The Idaho Maximum Security Institution is a 516-bed facility for men, south of Boise.
An inmate sentenced to life in prison died Dec. 10 at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise.

Pending an investigation by the Ada County Sheriff's Office and ruling from the Ada County coroner, officials at the Idaho Department of Correction said it appears Aurelio Barajas, 56, died of natural causes.

A correctional officer discovered Barajas laying on the floor of his single-bed cell in the pre-dawn hours Saturday. IDOC said the guard reported Barajas was initially responsive when staff entered his cell, but soon stopped breathing and had no detectable pulse. Ada County Paramedics declared the inmate dead at 3:22 a.m.

Convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in the brutal throat-slashing of a store clerk in Fruitland, Barajas was sentenced in May 1993 to death, but his execution wasn't to be—in large part because of the Mexican government, which in the '90s paid for the defense of several Mexican nationals on Death Row in the U.S. In Barajas' case, the defense was able to negotiate his sentence from death to life in prison.

According to prosecutors, Barajas cut his victim's throat with such force that a pathologist could see her vertebrae. Finding the murder weapon wasn't hard: a butcher's knife was found in Barajas' car with traces of the victim's blood on it.

Nonetheless, Barajas' defense attorney insisted the knife didn't belong to his client and the car had been loaned to an acquaintance the night of the murder. Additionally, the attorney said Barajas displayed signs of paranoia and might be mentally incompetent. A district judge rejected both the idea that Barajas let a friend borrow his car and that he was unable to stand trial, citing an interview with a court-appointed psychologist. However, Barajas' defense argued, the psychologist did not speak Spanish.

Once transferred to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, Barajas' mental state was shown to be highly disturbed, resulting in a successful 1995 appeal reducing his sentence to life imprisonment.
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