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Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas (AP) – A U.S. soldier was convicted Thursday in a murder-for-hire scheme in which prosecutors say he agreed to help kill a man for undercover agents posing as members of a Mexican drug cartel in exchange for drugs and cash.

A federal jury in Laredo, Texas, on Thursday found 29-year-old Samuel Walker, a soldier from Colorado Springs, Colo., guilty of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Prosecutors alleged Walker thought he was talking to a cartel boss when he agreed to kill a man who had stolen cocaine and recover the drugs. The cartel boss was really a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

An accomplice, 28-year-old Calvin Epps of Hopkins, S.C., was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana in the same plot. Prosecutors said the scheme began in September 2011, when Epps and another person who has since pleaded guilty traveled to Laredo with DEA agents posing as cocaine and marijuana brokers.

Walker and Hopkins were the last of seven defendants charged in the case.

According to prosecutors, Epps asked the agents for 500 pounds of marijuana and offered to put them in contact with Kevin Corley, a then-active duty soldier. Corley told the agents in a conversation a few months later that he could provide the cartel with military weapons and training as well as carry out the murder-for-hire of a man who the undercover agents posing as cartel members said had stolen cocaine from them.

Corley, who pleaded guilty, testified about telling Walker of the offer to kill the alleged drug thief and said Walker instructed him to ask for $50,000 as payment. Corley also testified that in early January 2012, after he had met with the man he thought was a “big drug boss,” he reminded Walker of the offer and Walker agreed to participate.

Authorities say Epps, Corley and another defendant received the marijuana load from the undercover agents on Jan. 14. The drugs were seized when DEA agents stopped them.

The suppliers refused to supply Epps with another shipment, prosecutors allege. Corley then offered to kill the alleged drug thief if the undercover agents would provide another 500-pound load of marijuana to Epps.

Walker was arrested along with Corley and others on March 24 while they discussed the details of the murder-for-hire with the undercover agents, authorities say. Epps was arrested in Columbia, S.C., while discussing the payment of the 500-pound marijuana shipment, according to authorities.

Walker faces a maximum prison term of 10 years for the murder-for-hire charge and a mandatory consecutive sentence of five years to life for the weapons charge.

Epps faces 10 years to life for the drug conspiracy conviction, plus five years mandatory prison sentence for the weapon. He also faces a five to 40 years in prison sentence for the possession of the marijuana.

U.S. District Judge George P. Kazen has not set a sentencing date yet.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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