A judge has acquitted of one of the three upper-class young men accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in a rape case that sparked outrage across Mexico.
The judge said that Diego Cruz Alonso touched a former high school classmate on her breasts and genitals after a party in 2015 but that it amounted to "incidental rubbing" committed without "lascivious intent."
The ruling Monday by Anuar Gonzalez Hemadi was widely criticized in Mexico, where the case had already been cited by many as a symbol of the failure of justice in cases of sexual assault and of the impunity of Mexico's powerful elite.
"Justice in Mexico," tweeted Estefania Vela Barba, a law professor at Mexico's Center for Research and Teaching in Economics. "It is not sexual abuse, because what he did — touching her and penetrating her — he did without lewd intent."
The alleged incident happened in early 2015 in the affluent city of Boca del Rio, in the coastal state of Veracruz.
The girl, a 17-year-old senior at an exclusive Catholic high school had attended a party at a club with some classmates. As she prepared to leave, she said she was forced into a black Mercedes by Cruz, then 19, and three of his friends, all sons of wealthy businessmen or politicians and all adults.
She said she was assaulted in the car by Cruz and Jorge Coahuila, accusing them of reaching under her shirt and shorts. She said she was later raped by Enrique Capitaine Marin at his home in an affluent neighborhood a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico.
The case drew nationwide attention after the girl's father made public two videos that he recorded after the incident in which Cruz and the other men appear to confess to sexually assaulting his daughter.
"We made a mistake," Cruz said in one of the videos. Later, Cruz and the others put out a statement saying they were innocent and had been coerced into the apology.
Prosecutors' long delay in investigating the case drew heavy criticism, and critics dubbed the suspects in the case "Los Porkys," a reference to a 1981 feature film about the sexual escapades of a group of high school students. The movie title was also invoked in Mexico years ago in another case in which a group of wealthy men went free after allegedly beating a man to death.
Pressure on authorities to act this time increased after extensive media coverage and after feminist activists marched, demanding justice.
Cruz fled to Spain last year and lived there for several months under an assumed identity. He was arrested in Madrid in June by Interpol agents and extradited to Mexico last fall.
He remains in custody. Under Mexico's legal system, the acquittal must be reviewed by a circuit court judge before he is freed.
Capitaine was detained in March 2016, and is awaiting a ruling in his case. Coahuila is at large. A fourth man was present during the alleged assault but was not accused of taking part.
The victim's father reacted angrily to the acquittal, saying Tuesday that the judge set a dangerous precedent when he ruled Cruz did not commit a crime by touching his daughter.
"Imagine, any adult can touch any person, of whatever age, and go free by saying it was not lascivious, and that there was no intent to have sex," he told a radio reporter.
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine last year, the father, who works as a therapist, said he decided to film the confessions of his daughter's alleged assailants because he does not believe in Mexico's justice system.
More than 80% of sexual assaults in Mexico are never reported, according to the government's National Institute for Women, in part because only a small fraction of Mexico's criminal cases are ever resolved in the courts.
"In Mexico, the last thing the system of justice provides is justice," the father told the magazine last year. "I knew they would fail us."
Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
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