He was an assassin for a Mexican drug cartel who estimates taking part in more than 100 murders before age 23. But in an unorthodox arrangement with police, the "sicario" confessed all, including the inner workings of cartel life, in exchange for his freedom when he was arrested, reports the New York Times in a remarkable profile. The story is tough to read at times, including the details of how he was recruited and had to pass a test of dismembering a corpse. (One teen who hesitated was killed on the spot.) At another point, cartel members tested him by taunting him as weak and pointed to two innocent men on the street. The sicario, then 17, immediately pounced and slit the throat of one of them. "They took away everything left in me that was human and made me a monster," he says in one of 17 interviews for the piece.
Most of his murders took place in the state of Morelos, and the sicario says one in particular stays with him. His bosses sent him to eliminate a group of kidnappers, and the sicario captured them. A college student, clearly innocent, was among them, and the sicario asked permission to spare him but was denied. "That student still haunts me,” he says. “I see his face, that kid begging me for his life. I will never forget his eyes. He was the only one who ever looked at me that way." The story recounts the "code" of killers to try to spare children and ordinary working people, but adds that it's mostly just "talk." The cartel business of killing comes first. Police eventually expanded the confess-and-go-free program to others, and murders in Morelos dropped significantly for a time. However, the program is now defunct. Read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)