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Gunmen on Friday shot and killed a judge who had been investigating a murder charge against fugitive drug lord Pablo Escobar, the Caracol radio network reported.

Miriam Rocio Velez, 38, was one of Colombia's so-called faceless judges, whose identities are supposedly kept secret to protect them from the terrorists and drug traffickers they are investigating.Three of Velez's bodyguards were killed in the attack near the judge's home in a southern suburb of Medellin, 150 miles northwest of the capital.

Caracol said Velez had been investigating the 1986 murder of Guillermo Cano, publisher of Bogota's El Espectador newspaper. Escobar is charged with ordering Cano's killing.

Velez had received numerous death threats since beginning work on the case, which Caracol said was the most concrete the government has going against Escobar, who is also blamed for killing such prominent Colombians as Attorney General Carlos Mauro, Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara and Liberal Party presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.

Velez was the third judge to be murdered while investigating the Cano murder. Hector Giraldo Galvez, a lawyer representing the Cano family, also was murdered, in March 1989.

Eighty-two Colombian judges have been killed in the last 13 years, most of them by hitmen working for the drug cartels.

Escobar escaped July 22 from a resortlike prison in a Medellin suburb during a government attempt to transfer him to another prison.

He has said through press interviews that he would consider surrendering if he received safety guarantees and a promise that he would be jailed in his home-state of Antioquia, of which Medellin is the capital.