He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel.

He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel.

“I was at the point of going crazy,” he said. “I would spend two or three days crying.”

Eventually, a pastor — an uneducated, reformed convict himself — came to see him. At first, the sicario worried the man was a spy sent by his enemies. Eventually, he began to speak to him and, before long, could hardly stop.

The pastor was caught off guard by the torrent of confessions as the sicario gave himself over to the Bible with a fervor he once held for violence, a conversion so common it is almost a cliché in the world of gangs and cartels.

“That other person is dead,” the sicario said as if, with repetition, it might become true.

He found new purpose in confinement, helping solve cold cases, testifying against cartel players and paving the way for some two dozen convictions. The police said they saw a real transformation in him, though they had their own reasons to believe it, too.

By October of 2018, the police had expanded the program to include a dozen cooperating witnesses. With no other place to put them, the authorities housed the young men right next door to the jail that held the cartel members they were testifying against. Every few weeks, the police ferried them to court to provide evidence in cases.

The witnesses slept on thin mattresses on the floor, ate at a cracked plastic table and sat in chairs shorn of their backs. Large blue tubs overflowed with water used for bathing and flushing.

There were small comforts — a television, a microwave and an electric keyboard on which the sicario taught himself to play the theme song to the movie “Titanic.” And every weekday, the makeshift wing of the prison turned into an evangelical revival.

A pastor strummed an old guitar and led them in hymns. When the singing stopped, they took turns confessing — the soulless acts of violence they had committed, their temptation to return, their gratitude for having been saved.

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