Mexican authorities defend Will case conclusions

Mexico’s special prosecutor for crimes against journalists has responded to CPJ’s October 24 letter expressing concerns about the investigation into the murder of U.S. filmmaker Bradley Will. The prosecutor’s response leaves much unresolved.

In its letter, CPJ questioned the decision to pursue homicide charges against Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno. Two other suspects, Octavio Pérez Pérez and Hugo Colmenares Leyva, were charged as accomplices. All three men belong to the leftist movement that protested for months in 2006 against the government of Oaxaca state.

Will, 36, was documenting the conflict for the New York-based news agency Indymedia when he was killed on October 27, 2006, as he stood among protesters during a street battle against armed, pro-government men. CPJ interviewed witnesses, the Oaxaca medical examiner, and others to compile a 2007 investigative report on the case, “A Killing in Mexico.” 

The CPJ letter argued that the indictment of the three protesters ignored considerable evidence against pro-government gunmen photographed shooting into the crowd during the deadly battle. 

The recent response from the special prosecutor’s office reiterated its confidence that witness testimony and evidence point to the demonstrators’ culpability. It stated that the special prosecutor’s office had “analyzed all the possible investigation lines. No evidence was discarded or ignored.” (Read the special prosecutor’s response in Spanish.)

Authorities did not address an important ongoing question: Why is photographic and forensic evidence that could implicate pro-government gunmen not considered credible? They argue that photojournalist Raúl Estrella, who works for Mexico’s daily newspaper El Universal, testified that the gunmen fired shots at him during the deadly street battle. But there was no acknowledgement that the gunmen were also seen firing at other journalists in the crowd and no explanation why these gunmen would not be suspects in Will’s killing.

Authorities also did not provide detail to defend their controversial theory that Will was shot twice at close range, defying conclusions by independent investigators, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, and medical examiners in Oaxaca that both bullets came from weapons fired at long range–a distance that would point to weapons fired by the pro-government gunmen.

Oaxacan Judge Luis Salvador Cordero, in ruling that Martínez should stand trial, found that a “proven motive” implicated the protester, the prosecutor notes. But no reasoning for that motive has been provided beyond the fact that a protester is overheard on Will’s videotape, seconds before the shooting, saying, “don’t continue taking pictures.” The authorities consider the comment a threat, but there are many ways to interpret such a statement during an intense moment. It is hardly solid evidence of a murder motive. 

By not addressing these concerns in greater detail, authorities have failed to allay doubts over their ability and willingness to investigate this case.