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The suspected leader of a Colombian cocaine cartel had planned to plead guilty Tuesday to a drug conspiracy charge, but opted at the last minute to go to trial instead because the deal prosecutors offered meant he would likely die in prison.

An exasperated U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz warned Jaime Alberto Marin-Zamora that the latest continuance in his case — the third — would be his last. She scheduled a trial for Sept. 26.

"That's the drop-dead date," Seitz told Marin-Zamora, who was clad in tan prison garb and was using earphones so he could hear an interpreter translate the judge's words to Spanish.

Defense lawyer David Fernandez told The Associated Press after the hearing that prosecutors offered a plea deal that would effectively mean a life sentence, which is the maximum Marin-Zamora faces if convicted of cocaine trafficking conspiracy at trial.

"We're not going to take a plea that would let him rot in jail for the rest of his life," Fernandez said. "We were looking for a number we could live with and my guy wouldn't die in jail."

Fernandez declined to discuss specific details of the negotiations.


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