Berman Asks Mexico to Reopen Jail Death Case
Spurred by a vocal Shadow Hills man whose brother was found dead in a Baja California jail, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) Wednesday wrote to Mexican authorities beseeching them to reopen the case.
A Mexican appeals court earlier this month overturned the conviction of a Rosarito police officer who had been sentenced to eight years for the killing.
Berman’s letter to Jose Luis Anaya Bautista, attorney general of the state of Baja California, was called the first volley in a renewed campaign of political pressure by the surviving brother, Joe Amado.
“It’s been a nightmare for almost four years now,” Amado said, promising to lobby U.S. Atty Gen. Janet Reno and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D--Calif.) for similar appeals. “This is what I’ve got to do.”
Joe Amado’s younger brother, 29-year-old Mario Amado of North Hollywood, was found face down with lacerations around his neck in the Rosarito municipal jail on June 6, 1992.
Immediately after the death, Joe Amado appealed to Berman, who in turn pressed Carlos Salinas de Gortari, then president of Mexico.
Following the president’s involvement, a Baja California court convicted the police officer, Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores, of murder.
But to Amado’s dismay, a panel of three Baja California appeals judges overturned the ruling on May 10. The panel said an autopsy showed Mario Amado may have committed suicide, and the judges accepted Verduzco’s defense that even if a murder occurred, the officer was off duty and not in the jail when Amado died.
Verduzco’s attorney, Marco Antonio Macklis of Tijuana, declined comment on the appellate ruling or his client’s plans.
Tom Waldman, a spokesman for Berman, said the congressman was challenging the suicide finding, not Verduzco’s release.
“We still believe there is a killer or killers out there,” he said. “A murder was committed.”
Citing Mexican government requests for investigations into the recent beating of two illegal Mexican immigrants by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies, Waldman said the congressman deserves a response.
“The Mexican government has been pretty forthright about requesting justice for their citizens on our soil. The Mexican government also needs to make special efforts at this time for something that happened on Mexican soil,” he said.
Mario Amado was vacationing in the popular beach town when he was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct after a fight with his girlfriend. After less than two hours in custody he was found dead.
Mexican authorities said Mario Amado hanged himself with a sweater. But independent autopsies arranged by Joe Amado concluded his brother had been savagely beaten and strangled with a rope.
In Mexico, the police versions of jailhouse deaths usually get little scrutiny. Human rights groups have said Verduzco’s conviction would not have occurred without Joe Amado’s efforts, which included picketing a border crossing, commissioning the autopsies and pressing political figures such as Berman to take up his cause.
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