Berman Sends Direct Plea to Mexican President Over Man’s Death


A San Fernando Valley congressman has taken the unusual step of writing directly to the president of Mexico over the purported suicide of a North Hollywood man in a Baja California jail, contending “the evidence strongly suggests murder.”

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) called on Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to see that justice is done in the investigation of the death of Mario Amado, 29, who died June 6 in a Rosarito Beach jail shortly after police had arrested him on grounds of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

Mexican authorities said Amado hanged himself with his sweater from the bars of a cell window, but Amado’s family has amassed medical evidence indicating that he was beaten to death.


In a two-page letter to the Mexican president, Berman said he is “convinced that Mr. Amado did not commit suicide.”

“Instead, I believe the evidence strongly suggests murder.”

Berman, who represents the district where Amado’s family lives, wrote to the Mexican president that he was “frustrated by the pace of events.” He asked Salinas to ensure that the Mexican federal attorney general’s office and the Mexican Human Rights Commission take part in an investigation of the death.

“There’s enough evidence to convince me that something terribly wrong happened and that whoever did it should be brought to justice,” Berman said in an interview, shortly before he sent his letter to Salinas.

The letter, dated Nov. 10 and obtained by The Times from Berman’s office on Thursday, was an unusual breach of the customary procedures observed in communications between two governments. Normally, instead of a legislator from one country writing to the president of another, Berman would have addressed his complaint to the State Department, which would have contacted the Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry.

In July, the congressman--whose help had been requested by Amado’s brother, Joe, 50, of Van Nuys--wrote to the U.S. Consul General in Tijuana, requesting that his office press Mexican federal authorities to investigate. Berman said he decided to approach the Mexican president directly because “nothing was really happening” through normal channels.

“I am concerned,” Berman wrote Salinas, “that the investigation recently launched by Mexican federal authorities into this case will not reflect the findings” of Los Angeles County’s chief medical examiner-coroner, whom Berman asked to evaluate the evidence, and a Los Angeles pathologist hired by Amado’s family to perform a second autopsy.

“It is my fervent hope that basic human rights are observed in his case,” Berman wrote. “I am confident that this view is shared by the Salinas government. To many Americans, your presidency symbolizes a new spirit in Mexico, including a strong desire for improved economic and political ties with the United States.”

President Salinas could not be reached in Mexico City for comment.

The Amado investigation took a dramatic turn in October, when Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran concluded in a report to Berman that the death was not suicide and “there is enough evidence to suspect death at the hands of another.”

He reached this conclusion, he said, despite “incomplete information from the forensic examination done in Mexico.”

The medical examiner theorized that Amado’s death was caused by “blunt force trauma”--a destructive blow with a fist or object--”to the abdomen, and neck compression.” In July, Dr. Richard Siegler, the pathologist hired by Amado’s family, concluded that the presence of three cups of blood in the liver capsule was “strong evidence for a blow to the upper abdomen.” The resulting hemorrhage, Siegler reported, “would likely produce shock,” and someone in shock “would not likely have been able to hang himself.”

By late August, officials of both the United States and Mexican governments confirmed that Amado’s death was being investigated by Mexican authorities as a possible homicide instead of suicide.