Cortés, a reporter for the nightly news program "Noticas CVN," was shot and killed as he was emerging from a taxi outside his aunt's home in Cali. The taxi driver was also killed. The gunman fled in a car driven by an accomplice.
In his 18 years as a journalist in Cali, Cortés had covered everything from drug trafficking to government corruption. In 1992, guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) briefly detained him. Colombian authorities believe that Cortés was killed in retaliation for a story aired on July 11, 1997, about a military operation to destroy a large cocaine laboratory near the town of Corinto, an area controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a second guerrilla group. Cortés' report featured dramatic footage of rebels firing on the soldiers who had destroyed the cocaine lab.
In November, Colombian police charged Julio César Ospina Chavarro with the murder. Police searched his home and found the gun used in the killing and the license plate from the stolen car used by the assailants. An informant told the prosecutor's office that Ospina Chavarro said drug traffickers from Corinto hired him to kill Cortés. Cortés' funeral in Cali drew several thousand people who were outraged by the crime.