CPJ concerned about Will probe

October 24, 2008

Eduardo Medina Mora
Attorney General
Mexico City, Mexico

Via facsimile: 52-55-5346-0901

Dear Mr. Medina Mora:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by developments in the criminal investigation into the October 27, 2006, killing of U.S. journalist Bradley Roland Will in Oaxaca. The recent indictment of three protesters ignores considerable evidence indicating that pro-government gunmen were behind the killing.

On October 21, Oaxacan Judge Luis Salvador Cordero ruled that suspect Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno should stand trial on homicide charges in Will’s shooting, according to press reports. Two other suspects, Octavio Pérez Pérez and Hugo Colmenares Leyva, were charged as accomplices but released on bail, the Mexico City-based daily Milenio reported. 

Will, 36, working for the New York-based news agency Indymedia, died while filming a clash on the outskirts of the state capital that pitted armed government supporters against protesters, many of whom belonged to a leftist movement known as the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO. For months, the leftist movement had seized control of parts of the capital, demanding the ouster of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, according to CPJ research.

CPJ interviewed witnesses, the Oaxaca medical examiner, and others to compile a 2007 investigative report, “A Killing in Mexico.” Will and other journalists documenting the clash were working amid the protesters on the day of the killing, CPJ found. These journalists told CPJ that pro-government supporters fired in the direction of the protesters; photos taken by these journalists document this gunfire. One photojournalist, Oswaldo Ramírez, was shot in the leg. Another photojournalist, Raúl Estrella, heard a bullet whiz by his head. Will was shot twice; the first shot hit him straight on, the second entered his side. Protesters immediately rushed to Will’s side and tried to resuscitate him. He died minutes later.

The Oaxaca medical examiner’s office, which performed an autopsy, found that the wounds on Will’s body corresponded to shots fired at long range. The shots, the medical examiner found, were not fired at close range. Yet today, two years after Will’s death, federal prosecutors argue that Will was indeed shot at close range. Martínez and the other defendants, all APPO members, were standing near Will during the clash.

CPJ believes the conclusions presented by the federal deputy prosecutor on human rights, Juan de Dios Castro Lozano, and the federal prosecutor for crimes against journalists, Octavio Orellana Wiarco, at an October 17 press conference put the integrity of the federal inquiry in doubt. Prosecutors have failed to present clear forensic evidence, witness statements, or motive tying Martínez and the others to the killing. At the same time, they appear to have disregarded evidence–ballistic, photographic, and medical–that would implicate supporters of the Oaxaca government.

The absence of specific, supporting evidence against the defendants and the apparent failure to pursue other lines of investigation have dismayed the Will family and independent teams that have investigated the case, including Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

Your office has pledged to investigate crimes against free expression, but we are seriously concerned by the direction of this case. The latest turn of events, which ignores previous investigative work, sets a dangerous precedent for the press in Mexico and for the right to free expression guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution. We urge you to reconsider the conclusions set forth in this case and demonstrate that this probe has much more ground to cover.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director