Officer Guilty of Slaying in Mexico Jail
A Mexican police officer has been sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison in the strangling death of a North Hollywood man in a Rosarito jail, a rare victory for human rights activists who contend that Mexican police mistreat foreign tourists with impunity.
It also was a ringing triumph for the dead man’s brother, who mounted a home-grown protest that dragged both a U.S. congressman and the president of Mexico into the case on his behalf.
“This decision . . . shows that you can still get justice if you keep trying,” Joe Amado said Thursday from his Sun Valley home, bursting into tears. “I am very happy that we won, but unfortunately my brother lost.”
His brother Mario Amado, 29, was found dead in the jail in Rosarito, a beach resort just south of Tijuana, after he was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in June 1992. Police said he had hanged himself with a sweater.
But Joe Amado--in a series of investigations that cost him thousands of dollars--proved that his brother had been severely beaten before his death, and probably had passed out from the pain of liver injuries when he was strangled with a rope.
Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores, a former Rosarito police officer, was sentenced Wednesday for intentional homicide in Amado’s death, Jorge Esparza Luna, Verduzco’s defense attorney, said Thursday.
The sentence by Tijuana Judge Jesus Antonio Chavez Hoyos, which ended Verduzco’s trial, gives him credit for 2 1/2 years in custody, so he could be released in six years, Esparza said.
Esparza said he would appeal the sentence to the Baja California State Superior Court in Mexicali, saying Verduzco had been framed by the testimony of two “bums and thugs” as vengeance for arresting them. Further, the trial’s 2 1/2-year length violated the Mexican constitutional guarantee of a maximum one-year trial, Esparza said.
The conviction is believed to mark one of the few times a Mexican law enforcement officer has been convicted in a Mexican court of murder in the jail death of a foreign tourist.
Mario Amado was only one of several Americans to die in Mexican jails in recent years. The State Department reported that in 1992, Mexican authorities arrested 977 Americans, of whom 67 complained that they were beaten or otherwise mistreated. Two of the complaints were confirmed by Mexican authorities, and the United States lodged protests in 13 other cases.
In 1991, there were 76 complaints of mistreatment, of which two were confirmed by Mexican officials and 16 were the subject of U.S. protests.
Human rights activists called Amado’s death a prime example of the problem. Mexican officials, however, have said the arrest and prosecution of Verduzco proves that they take seriously allegations of human rights abuse.
Mexican authorities at first ignored Joe Amado’s protests that his brother’s “suicide” was a cover-up for murder. Amado, who was with his brother and their girlfriends on a holiday when his brother was arrested, was determined not to let the matter rest. He began by picketing at the border crossing south of San Diego.
In time, his methods became more sophisticated. He became an expert on the Mexican legal system and the problems of other foreigners in Mexican custody, linking with several human rights organizations. Before his brother’s body was buried in the family plot at Corcoran, near Bakersfield, he hired a pathologist to conduct an autopsy.
Dr. Richard Siegler found that Amado had been beaten so badly that he had severe internal bleeding from liver injuries. His findings were confirmed by an autopsy conducted, at Joe Amado’s expense, by the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office. In a third examination, a Kings County pathologist concluded that Amado was murdered by strangulation.
The clincher came from the FBI. In claiming her brother’s body, Amado’s sister also had reclaimed the sweater. An FBI lab investigation determined that the fibers embedded in Amado’s neck came from the rope, not the sweater.
Persuaded by Joe Amado, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, interceded in the case, pressuring former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to look into it.
In January 1993, Salinas--who was then pushing an anti-corruption drive but has since left Mexico--said he would ensure that Amado’s killer was found and prosecuted. The Tijuana police chief remarked at the time that the pressure from the president’s office was “very unusual.”
Verduzco, a Rosarito municipal police officer assigned to the jail, was arrested four months later.
Times staff writer Josh Meyer contributed to this story.
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