A former hit man for Pablo Escobar, who confessed to hundreds of murders as head of the drug kingpin's army of assassins, has been freed from jail. The move drew angry protests from families of many of his alleged victims.
John Jairo Velasquez, better known by his nickname "Popeye", was released on Tuesday evening under heavy police surveillance from a maximum security prison northeast of Bogota. He had spent 22 years behind bars for plotting the murder of a former presidential candidate.
The slaying of the cartel-fighting politician Luis Carlos Galan during the 1990 presidential campaign he was heavily favoured to win marked the apex of drug violence that engulfed Colombia two decades ago.
Velasquez was one of Escobar's most-trusted lieutenants during the campaign of terror, joining the Medellin cocaine cartel before he turned 18.
As Colombia's bloody cocaine turf wars faded from memory, Velasquez liked to boast in frequent interviews from prison that he killed 300 people with his own hands, including his own wife.
But the only murder for which he was convicted was Galan's. The family members of his many other alleged victims, as well as legal experts, grasped for an explanation when a judge last week determined he was eligible for parole.
"It's really sad that an assassin who committed so many homicides was sentenced for a single murder," said General Carlos Mena, the head of Colombia's highway police, who as a young officer helped US authorities hunt down Escobar, who was killed by police in 1993.
In a string of interviews anticipating his early release, Velasquez said he probably had an 80 per cent chance of being killed by former rivals after he's freed. He also said he wanted to sell the rights to his autobiography to Hollywood.