Two officials suspected in shooting of U.S. journalist released

New York, December 4, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists renewed its appeal to Mexican federal authorities today to take over the investigation into the killing of U.S. journalist Bradley Roland Will after two local officials suspected in his shooting were freed.

Will, 36, an independent documentary filmmaker and reporter for the news Web site Indymedia, was killed covering antigovernment protests in the restive southern city of Oaxaca on October 27. Leftist activists of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), and a group of armed men, allegedly including officials and off-duty policemen, clashed in the municipality of Santa Lucía del Camino.

“We believe that in the current political climate Oaxaca state authorities are incapable of conducting an impartial and prompt investigation,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Federal authorities should seek a legal basis to take over the investigation We renew our call on federal authorities to take over the investigation and ensure Bradley Will’s murder does not go unpunished.”

On December 1, judge Victoriano Barroso Rojas released local councilman Abel Santiago Zárate and his chief of security Orlando Manuel Aguilar, saying that the men were too far from Will to have shot him. The two officials were arrested a few days after Will’s death. Photographs and video footage helped local authorities identify the suspects.

Judge Barroso told CPJ today that an autopsy and ballistic reports showed that Will was shot by a 9-millimeter gun fired just over three feet (1meter) away. Copies of the reports have not been made public. “The prosecutor’s investigation has found that the local officials were not responsible for the shooting because they were not close to the journalist,” said Barroso.

According to Barroso, witnesses told investigators that Zárate and Aguilar opened fire but they used .38 pistols from a minimum distance of 114 feet (35 meters). Video footage and photographs showed the officials firing into the APPO crowd.

The two men acknowledged shooting, but said they had fired in the air in defense of a family that was being harassed by APPO activists, Barroso said.

Based on ballistic reports, state prosecutors believe that the two shots that hit Will came from the same gun, Barroso said.

Oaxaca State Attorney General Lizbeth Cana had suggested that APPO protesters shot Will. Supporters of the protesters dismissed the suggestion as an attempt to cover up for the real murderers.

Judge Barroso said that releasing the suspects did not mean the case was closed but that the state prosecutors would continue their investigation. According to Proceso magazine, seven people are still being investigated though there was no indication why prosecutors suspected them.
On October 30, CPJ sent attorney general Daniel Cabeza de Vaca a letter calling upon the federal authorities to fully investigate the killing and bring those responsible to justice.
Though the office of the special prosecutor that investigates crimes against the press is monitoring the inquiry, the case is still being prosecuted by Oaxaca state authorities.

Oaxaca City has been under siege for the past seven months by protesters demanding the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who they claim rigged the 2004 election and has used violence against his opponents. At least nine people have died in the clashes, including Will, according to the Associated Press. Several journalists covering the unrest have been beaten and harassed by protesters, and police and officials in civilian clothes, CPJ research shows.