Maria Guadalupe Lourdes Maldonado López, a veteran broadcast journalist, was shot dead in her car in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Tijuana, a city bordering the United States in the northern Mexican state of Baja California, on January 23, 2022, according to news reports.
Maldonado was a longtime journalist who previously worked as a reporter and anchor for television broadcasters Televisa and Primer Sistema de Notícias (PSN), as well as magazine Séptimo Día, according to news reports and journalist Vicente Calderón of news website Tijuana Press, who spoke with CPJ by phone. According to Calderón, she mostly covered general news and local politics, and was known for her fierce and sometimes confrontational reporting style.
Several months before she was killed, Maldonado began hosting an online radio show called Brebaje, in which she also covered local politics and general news. In her most recent broadcasts, she covered a wide range of topics, including criticism of the creation of a magazine by the Tijuana municipal government, as well as the murder of her colleague Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel. Martinez, a well-known photojournalist, was shot dead in Tijuana on January 17, 2022.
Hiram Sánchez, the prosecutor of the Baja California state attorney general’s office (FGE) assigned to Maldonado’s case, told CPJ in a telephone conversation on January 24 that the reporter was attacked at approximately 7 p.m. at her residence in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego. She had returned home moments before and was still in her vehicle when she was attacked.
Maldonado had previously been attacked because of her work and was registered in the Mexican government’s program to protect journalists, according to news reports. Sánchez confirmed to CPJ that Maldonado had received some security measures, including regular check-ins by a police patrol car at her Santa Fe residence. Hiram Sánchez, the state prosecutor, confirmed to CPJ in the telephone call mentioned above that the security measures were assigned to her after she enrolled officially in the state protection mechanism.
On March 26, 2019, Maldonado traveled to Mexico City and participated in the daily morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She told the president that day that she “feared for her life,” asking his government for protection and mentioning a labor dispute with her former employer PSN, a news outlet owned by Jaime Bonilla, a wealthy and influential businessman who became governor of Baja California later that year. Maldonado was demanding compensation from PSN, which she said had fired her unjustly almost a decade earlier.
On January 19, 2022, a judge ruled in favor of Maldonado. According to news reports, the journalist would have received up to 500,000 pesos (approximately US$25,000) in compensation. In addition, the reports said, PSN would have had to hand over financial documents and information about payment to its employees to the reporter’s lawyer. CPJ was unable to reach the lawyer.
CPJ also was unable to obtain contact information for Bonilla or his legal representatives, but the former governor published a video on his Twitter account on January 24, in which he denied having had a bad relationship with Maldonado or having threatened her. He acknowledged the existence of a labor dispute, but added that it “never elevated to the personal.”
CPJ reached out to the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which coordinates protection programs for journalists and rights defenders at risk, for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any reply.
On Februray 9, 2022, local media reported that three men had been arrested for their alleged involvement in the Maldonado killing. The Baja California state prosecutor’s office (FGE) told local media that the men had allegedly carried out the killing, but were not the masterminds of the attack. The FGE did not provide further details, and several telephone calls to the FGE by CPJ in February and March were not answered.
On October 26, 2022, the three men, now identified in news reports citing evidence presented in their trial as Guillermo Castro, Érick Contreras, and Kevin Villarino, were sentenced to 24, 20, and 20 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the killing. According to evidence presented by the FGE during the trial, which was cited in the reports, the three men had driven to Maldonado’s home on the day of the attack. Castro exited the vehicle and shot Maldonado, while Contreras and Villarino waited in the car.
According to the reports, the men’s sentences were the result of an abbreviated trial, similar to a plea bargain. The reports added that no details about the motive were provided during the hearings. In a press conference held two days after the trial, Baja California state prosecutor Ricardo Iván Carpio told media that his office was investigating two other suspects for potentially masterminding the killing, but declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing investigation.
The FGE did not answer several phone calls by CPJ in November 2022 seeking comment.