All lawyers involved in the defense of two Juarez bus drivers falsely accused of femicide have been executed; state police shot one in the head.
Two unidentified gunmen executed Mario Escobedo Salazar and his son Edgar Escobedo Anaya, also a lawyer, in their Juarez office on Tuesday, January 6.
The double homicide comes nearly seven years after Chihuahua State Judicial Police killed Escobedo Salazar's other son, Mario Escobedo Anaya, during a chase. The police originally stated that Mario Escobedo Anaya died when his vehicle crashed during the chase. It was later revealed that he died of a gunshot wound to the head fired by state police.
Prior to Mario Escobedo Anaya's 2002 execution, he, his father, and a third lawyer, the late Sergio Dante Almaraz Mora, represented the two Juarez public transportation bus drivers accused of murdering eight women whose bodies were found dumped in an area of Juarez known as "the Cotton Field." Escobedo Salazar's recent execution means that the entire defense team is now dead; all were executed. One of the bus drivers also died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody.
Bus Drivers Railroaded
On Monday, November 5, 2001, the bodies of eight women were discovered in the Cotton Field. El Paso Times reporter Diana Washington cites a police source who says the Chihuahua governor's office issued the following order after the discovery of bodies: "Resolve the case before Monday. No excuses."
On Friday, November 9, three days after the first cadaver was discovered, police reportedly wearing Halloween masks arrested bus drivers Víctor Javier "El Cerillo" García Uribe and Gustavo "La Foca" González Meza. The Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office charged the men with the murders of Guadalupe Luna de la Rosa, Verónica Martínez Hernández, Bárbara Araceli Martínez Ramos, María de los Ángeles Acosta Ramírez, Mayra Juliana Reyes Solís, Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez, Claudia Iveth González, and Esmeralda Herrera Monreal.
Following their arrest, the accused said the police who detained them did not present identification. Gonzalez testified to the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, "They blindfolded me and tied up my hands and my feet...they kicked me hard in the testicles and I lied down and they began to beat me. They told me that me and 'El Cerillo' had killed eight gals and if we didn't take the blame, it was going to get worse for us, they were going to kill us... They made us sign a statement that we never read."
The men's claims of torture are backed up by photographs released by their lawyers following their arrests. The accused appear in the photos with bruises and cigarette and electrical burns all over their bodies, including their genitals. During the men's trial, the judge stated that it was possible that the men's wounds were self-inflicted. The judge sentenced them to 50 years in prison.
Lawyer Executed by Police
On February 5 or 6, 2002, Mario Escobedo Anaya, Gonzalez's defense attorney, noticed two unmarked vehicles following him as he drove away from his family's law office. Because Escobedo had repeatedly received anonymous threats due to his defense of Gonzalez, he attempted to evade the cars. He called his father, also an attorney working on Gonzalez's defense, and begged for help. Mario Escobedo Salazar jumped in his car an attempted to reach his son. He was too late.
When Escobedo Salazar arrived on the scene, his son's car had already crashed. The police present told him that his son had died from the crash. It was later revealed that he died from a gunshot wound to the head.
It turns out that the two cars following Escobedo Anaya were full of police. One, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, was not an official police vehicle; it was State Police Commander Roberto Alejandro Castro Valles' personal vehicle. The police say they mistook Escobedo Anaya for one of his clients, an escaped prisoner.
A judge later ruled that the police acted in self defense because Escobedo Anaya had fired upon them. However, Frontera NorteSur correspondent Greg Bloom points out that accident scene photos taken by a photographer from the local paper El Norte show an unmarked Jeep Grand Cherokee without bullet holes. A few hours later, a photographer from the same paper photographed the same Jeep Cherokee outside the Attorney General's Office. The hood was full of bullet holes. Bloom writes, "El Norte contends that state police agents shot the Jeep themselves to strengthen their case against Escobedo Anaya. "
Escobedo Salazar began work on his son's case, compiling witnesses, experts, and evidence that would prove the police's guilt in Escobedo Anaya's death. One witness says s/he saw State Police Commander Roberto Alejandro Castro Valles get out of his car after the crash and shoot at the lawyer.
Escobedo Salazar also found an expert that was ready to testify that some of the shots that hit his son's truck could only have been fired after the vehicle crashed.
Escobedo Salazar was never able to bring the police responsible for his son's death to justice. He and his surviving son were executed by unidentified gunmen in their family's law office on January 6, 2009--the same law office where state police waited for Escobedo Anaya before they shot him in the head.
Suspicious Death in Prison
On February 8, 2003, Gonzalez was found dead in his cell while serving his 50-year sentence. Police reported that he died of complications from a hernia surgery that Gonzalez underwent while he and his co-defendent were illegally transferred to different Chihuahua prison. Gonzalez's widow says she did not consent to the surgery. Dante Almaraz, a member of the accused men's defense team, said the authorization for the surgery had a forged signature.
On July 14, 2005, Mexico's Supreme Court exonerated and released Gonzalez's co-defendant Víctor Javier "El Cerillo" García Uribe. Had he survived, Gonzalez would have also been freed.
Another Defense Lawyer Executed
In December 2005, Dante Almaraz wrote a letter to the editor of El Norte, accusing former Chihuahua governor Patricio Martinez's appointments to the state attorney general's office of trying to destroy his professional reputation, and, more alarmingly, of forming groups "so scary that they even assassinate their own commanders." Almaraz told El Norte and other local media that he had received threats due to his defense of the two bus drivers.
The threats against Almaraz where so severe and credible that in 2003 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended that the local government provide him with protection and guards. The government provided the recommended protection, but did not find it necessary to assign bodyguards to Almaraz permanently.
Even though Almaraz's surviving client was exonerated in July 2005, the lawyer refused to allow the injustice to go quietly into the dark. In October 2005, Almaraz appeared in a French documentary about the Juarez femicides, where he stated: "I am convinced that these young ladies were murdered by people involved in drug trafficking, with connections to the mafias, but tolerated by the state government. I place the terrible responsibility on the shoulders of the President of the Republic [at that time Vicente Fox] and the ex-governor [of Chihuahua] Patricio Martinez. They know perfectly well who the people are who committed the murders."
On January 25, 2006, multiple unidentified armed gunmen executed Almaraz while he waited in his truck at a traffic light in downtown Juarez.