Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, was murdered on the morning of March 23, 2017, in the eponymous state capital.
An unknown assailant shot Breach, 54, eight times as she was leaving home in her car, accompanied by one of her three children, shortly after 7 a.m., according to press reports. The child was not injured, but Breach died while being transported to the hospital.
Breach covered, among other subjects, politics, crime, and the intersection of the two. Since January 2017 she had also headed her own news agency, MIR, and had long been a contributor to the Chihuahua news website Norte, which announced after her murder that it was closing.
La Jornada reported that a note was found at the scene of the murder that read: "For being a snitch. You’re next, governor.–The 80." Police say The 80 is Arturo Quintana, who allegedly leads a criminal gang associated with the organized crime syndicate known as La Línea, which operates in the Western half of the state, according to news reports.
On March 4, 2016, Breach reported on alleged links between organized crime and mayoral candidates in several small towns in the mountainous region of western Chihuahua. The story mentioned "The 80" as supporting candidates for mayor in at least two towns, including the alleged gang leader’s mother-in-law. According to one journalist who knew the victim well and who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, Breach had received threats on at least three occasions for her reporting alleging links between politicians and alleged organized crime figures.
Nahum Pedro Zárate, deputy general director of the federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) told CPJ on the day of the murder that a federal investigation had begun. César Augusto Peniche Espejel, Chihuahua’s state attorney general, told CPJ during a visit to Chihuahua on April 4 that the victim’s work as a journalist has not been discarded as a possible motive. He said he could not provide more details, citing the ongoing investigation.
The governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral Jurado, said on February 20, 2020, that Breach had told him about threats she had received two years ago, when he was a senator, but that she had not told him about any more recent threats, according to the news website Sin Embargo. The Free Journalism Network of Chihuahua issued a statement on the day of her killing saying that Breach had met with officials from the Federal Mechanism for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in October 2016 and told them then that she had been threatened for her work.
Chihuahua Attorney General César Augusto Peniche on March 30, 2017, said that two suspects had been identified in the shooting, according to La Jornada. Peniche said that Breach was killed because her reporting affected the interests of organized crime, the newspaper reported.
Chihuahua state authorities told the media on March 30, 2017, that two suspects in Breach’s murder had been identified as having carried out the murder and added that both men allegedly belonged to a criminal group called “The Salazar,” named after the family running the outfit, which operates out of the Sierra Tarahumara region in western Chihuahua as an ally of the larger Sinaloa Cartel organized crime group.
Initially state authorities identified one of the men, Juan Carlos Moreno Ochoa, as having ordered the killing, while a second man, Ramón Andrés Zavala, had been the triggerman. A third man, Jaciel Vega Villa, was identified as having driven the murderers’ getaway car, according to news reports.
Moreno, alias “El Larry,” was arrested by Federal Police in Sonora, which borders Chihuahua, on December 25, 2017, according to news reports. Authorities reported to the media that Zabala had been murdered several days before Moreno’s arrest. On April 27, 2018, a federal judge ordered Chihuahua state authorities to hand over the Miroslava Breach murder case to the FEADLE.
A federal judge in Chihuahua on March 18, 2020, convicted Moreno of participation in Breach’s murder, according to news reports. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison on August 21, 2020, according to a statement provided by Propuesta Cívica, a Mexico City legal nonprofit that represents the journalist’s family during the trial proceedings.
Vega Villegas remained at large as of August 2021, according to Propuesta Cívica.
The FEADLE told media on February 17, 2020, that it had identified Crispín Salazar Zamorano, the head of the Salazar gang, as having masterminded the killing. According to the FEADLE, Salazar was angered by Breach’s reports on links between his group and local politics in Chihuahua, which led him to ordering the killing. Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the head of FEADLE, told CPJ that Salazar was still at large as of August 2021.
On December 17, 2020, the FEADLE announced in a statement that it had arrested Hugo Ahmed Schultz, the former mayor of Chínipas, for his alleged participation in the murder. According to that statement, Schultz allegedly facilitated the killing by passing information about Breach to the Salazar gang.
On June 15, 2021, Schultz was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the murder, according to a statement published the next day by Propuesta Cívica. The sentence was the result of an abbreviated trial, similar to a plea bargain.