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On Sergio’s case
Mexican photojournalist Sergio Dorantes Zurita, a former employee of Newsweek magazine whose acquittal on charges of murdering his wife in 2003 was upheld last week on appeal, described his battle for justice in a radio interview in this capital.
Dorantes Zurita told Radio Formula Friday that he fought during the trial to clear his name and "try to set a legal precedent," as well as to "stop the Federal District Attorney's Office from continuing to manufacture witnesses and ruining the lives of innocents, like they did with me."
Alejandra Patricia Dehesa Perez, Dorantes Zurita's estranged wife, was stabbed to death on June 4, 2003, at the offices of Newsweek magazine in Mexico City, where she worked as an administrator.
"We had been separated for seven months and her family immediately asked the DA's office to find me guilty of homicide, alleging that I had physically abused her," the photographer said.
An investigation was launched and in January 2004 the DA's office issued an arrest warrant for Dorantes, who fled to the United States.
In interviews over the years, the photojournalist has maintained his innocence and said evidence had been manufactured to pin the crime on him.
He was arrested on Feb. 20, 2007, and jailed in Oakland, California, before being handed over to Mexican authorities in October 2008 and placed in a Mexico City lockup.
Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez, the lone witness in the case, accused Dorantes Zurita of the crime, saying a man who appeared upset bumped into him after leaving the scene of the homicide.
He later retracted his statement, saying that he had been paid by a prosecutor to make the false accusation.
The witness was subsequently charged with making a false statement, but the one deemed false was the second one, meaning that the initial testimony stood and Dorantes Zurita remained behind bars.
The photojournalist said prosecutors used that false statement as the lone evidence against him in a "very torturous trial."
"They made life impossible for my defense team but (his attorneys) were very deft in gradually discrediting each of the arguments" of the DA's office, he added.
Dorantes Zurita also said the judge in the case, Joel Lopez Nuñez, "did an excellent job correcting all the errors of the previous judges" and acquitted him of the murder charge on March 30.
That sentence was upheld on July 6 by Mexico City's Superior Tribunal of Justice.
Dorantes Zurita said he is planning to found an organization to protect people sentenced to prison in Mexico for crimes they did not commit.
"I experienced it and I met many whose lives have been ruined by the deep-rooted corruption in prosecutors' offices and the so-called investigative police forces," the photojournalist said.
He said it is likely that the murder will remain unsolved, as often happens in Mexico.
This article appeared on the Fox News Latino website.
In an impeccable ruling, the 24th penal judge absolved Sergio Dorantes, who was unfairly accused of a murder he did not commit. I have followed this case for almost a decade and what remains now is that the Ninth Penal Court from the Mexico City’s Superior Tribunal of Justice, chaired by Edgar Elías, upholds Dorantes’ innocence.
Why is it that in Mexico the quality of justice is not the least bit important? While in the U.S., Colombia or Chile, to name a few examples, civil organizations, research centers, law schools, and experts debate which methodologies are appropriate in order to produce solid evidence leading to credible charges and just trials, in Mexico we’re still concerned with rates of impunity and convictions. It doesn't seem to matter much whether the evidence is clear and convincing, nor does it seem relevant whether the District Attorney presents a credible story about the case, much less if the person accused is the one who committed the crime. The only truly relevant question is whether there are enough persons in prison to simulate or instil a sense of a reduced impunity and that this alone will make us feel safer. That thousands of innocents are imprisoned does not keep us up at night. This also means that district attorneys and judges don’t care about them either. In Mexico, there’s no ethical compass or shared set of basic principles where criminal justice is concerned.
The case of Sergio Dorantes, accused of murdering his wife in Mexico City, is perhaps one of the best examples of how, in Mexican criminal prosecutions, everything, including the absurd, is allowed. As in many other cases in our country, the evidence against Dorantes is principally one testimony. In this case it was that of Luis Eduardo Sánchez. This witness gave his statement one month after the facts. This is not a minor detail. According to thousands of empirical studies regarding the mechanisms and psychology of the identification of alleged perpetrators on the basis of witness accounts, the time that transpires between events and witness statements is a very relevant variable for assessing the veracity of said statements. In any part of the world where the justice system functions relatively well, the judge would suspect the veracity of a statement provided one month after a crime is committed. However, this is not part of our judges’ DNA.
Another key variable for determining the probative value of a witness statement is the logic and common sense of what it presupposes. According to the records of the preliminary investigation, Mr. Sánchez, on a day like any other day, out of the blue, just decides to voluntarily make a formal statement at the District Attorney’s office where the homicide of Alejandra Dehesa, Dorantes’s wife, was being investigated. How did he know which, of the thousands of DA offices, was the right one to go to? Why did he show up? No matter. The point is that in his first statement he notes that on the day of the homicide, he was walking in Coyoacán and suddenly saw a man leaving a house- where the homicide occurred- and that this man bumped into him, and he seemed upset. He then saw the man enter a red car. The man was Sergio Dorantes. How long could he have seen Sergio Dorantes’s face? Three or four seconds? Who could remember someone’s face in that situation? This sworn statement is incredibly weak. Nevertheless, it is this statement that has kept Dorantes in prison for over eight years.
The story doesn’t end there. Luis Eduardo Sánchez makes another statement some months later, and reveals that what really happened was that the DA Investigator, María del Rocío García, sought him out because he was her brother’s friend. She told him she needed a witness for a case she was “investigating.” For 1,000 pesos ($100), she asks him to make the aforementioned statement. Sánchez’s retraction of his first statement leads Mexico City’s DA's office to charge him with making a false statement. However, the statement deemed “false” is the second one, not the first. This is how absurd and cartoonish Mexican criminal justice can be. In 2008, Luis Eduardo Sánchez was charged with making a false statement, and sentenced for six years. To make this an even more tortuous story, he was jailed in the same prison as Dorantes.
Who cares about the quality of the evidence in Dorantes’s trial? According to Mexico City’s DA records, Alejandra Dehesa’s homicide was not left unpunished, as there was an arrested suspect. This is what counts as a measure of proper fulfilment of the DA’s duties, and what is to make citizens believe we are safer.
Our collective obsession with impunity must have counterweights. Justice should also concern us. Just as we are outraged that those who kidnap or kill remain on the streets, so too should we be outraged, victims of crime included, at a system of criminal prosecution that offers no evidence, reasoning, or arguments which might provide a modicum of certainty that whomever is sentenced for a crime is most probably the same person who is guilty of the crime. Popular demand, no matter how many arrests and convictions are made, without a justice system worthy of the name, distances us further from the country we desire. Mexico needs justice and not vengeance to put itself back together again.
Sergio Dorantes, in contrast to the majority of the accused facing absurd trials, has the good fortune of being represented by one of Mexico’s best criminal defense lawyers, Alonso Aguilar Zinser, who decided to take the case pro bono. Currently, they both await the trial judge’s sentencing. Does the judge have the power to go against the DA’s designs? Can his decision make sense of the absurd and senseless nature of the charges? I hope, truly, that in Sergio Dorantes’s case, justice will finally be served, and that he soon will regain his freedom.
Archives of power
Morlett, Dorantes, Lorena...
all of us.
To the memory of Adriana.
Last Sunday, just minutes before going on the air for my radio news report for "Reporte 98.5 FM" (2 to 4 pm), I spoke by telephone with Javier Morlett. His words and his hushed, sad voice alike confirmed the death of his daughter Adriana, who had not been seen since the 6th of September of 2010.
"I will announce the news on my show, sir," I said to him.
"No, Martín, please. Not yet. My son still does not know. Nor does my mother. I beg you to not report it... not yet"
For ethical reasons, but moreover, as a father, I understood Javier's request. His grief should go first. I decided not to make it public.
Two days later, the Morlett family confirmed that the remains discovered were Adriana's, who I never knew in life, but whom I admired for her academic achievement -- an A student in the National Autonomous University's School of Architecture -- and I recognized her as a beloved and respected daughter.
Seized by a father's grief, last January I asked Javier Morlett to keep me informed of developments each Sunday. He accepted, despite the grief he endured, like a burning brand.
And now the question at hand has changed. Today it is "Who killed Adriana Morlett?"
One line of investigation leads to a university professor, reserved in his private life, suspicious of the authorities.
Another suspect --the usual suspect-- is Mauro Alberto Rodríguez, the friend(?) who last saw Adriana. His Facebook page records an intriguing post: "You're filthy... you traded me in as if I was a movie rental... I'd like to see their faces... ha ha ha." What did Mauro Alberto mean by that?
Her murderer or murderers should be arrested and punished.
For Adriana. For all of us.
In prison, accused of the 2003 murder of his ex-wife, Alejandra Dehesa, the photographer Sergio Dorantes finds himself near sentencing, at last Wednesday's close of the legal process. Dorantes was framed.
According to the records of Preliminary Investigation FCM/CUH-2/3755/05-12 --obtained by this column--, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez admits having received a payment of a thousand pesos (around $80)... "for appearing before authorities to make a statement, to say that I was walking down the sidewalk and saw a man of certain description the door exit the door (of Alejandra's offices), making sure to emphasize that the man was noticeably agitated."
Who paid for Luis Eduardo's statement? Why should he say?: "I'm a friend of Alfredo Briseño... he asked me if I wanted to make a little money."
Who is Briseño? [Says] Luis Eduardo, "He's the half-brother of Rocío García, (who) explained to me on the street that she was in charge of the Coyoacán Investigative Police [el Ministerio Público] and who had an preliminary investigation and needed a witness to make a statement; that I wouldn't have any problems because they wanted to close the case, that she would pay me a thousand pesos to make a statement... Alfredo got her to give me a thousand pesos..."
A paid witness.
Jorge Sánchez Patiño, Alejandra Dehesa's driver, had a dispute with her over money. In the case file AP COY-2T1/969/03-07 it is established that, while the then-accused Sánchez was being investigated..., "blood was found on his right tennis shoe and also on his car, a [Nissan Sentra] Tsuru, which he used to provide taxi service to the deceased... this evidence suggests that the suspect was an party to homicide."
Two culprits? One accused by paid witness. The other implicated by buried evidence.
The sentence is about to be delivered.
To the lack of solid proof on the part of the authorities --implicating her as the presumed operator of the University City roadblock where Fernando Martí was kidnapped-- and the inexplicably delayed and suspicious proceedings of Judge Jesús Ubando López, we may add another factor of complicit indifference to the encarceration of the ex-federal subinspector, Lorena González: the silence of Alejandro Martí.
In the pages of Excélsior it has been made plain: Martí has the moral obligation to publicly state that Lorena is innocent of involvement in his son's case. What a paradox! Alejandro waves the banner of justice with [his organization] Mexico SOS, but remains silent when faced with the injustice against Lorena.
What's more: Alejandro Martí --accompanied by someone else-- has visited Noé Roblas --the confessed murderer of [his son] Fernando--, to pressure him to implicate Lorena in the case.
What's this about? Forcing a supposed guilt on Lorena? This is contemptible. Equal to that of the kidnappers.
Why does Alejandro Martí keep silent when an innocent is in jail? Could it be perhaps to avoid upsetting the city authorities?
Many have advised Alejandro Martí to speak up for Lorena's innocence. His response has been to hang his head.
Or could he be keeping quiet for fear of what Enrique Mendieta, whom Martí hired to negotiate with his sons kidnappers, might say about his son's case?
Meanwhile, another innocent remains in jail.
Justice, Mexican style.
In July 2003, with a knife across her neck, Alejandra Dehesa was found in the bathroom of her office at Newsweek magazine. Accused of the murder of his former wife, photojournalist Sergio Dorantes has been jailed three years for only a testimony.
For five years Dorantes sought refuge in the USA, first as a fugitive, later in and out of prison until 2008 when a Californian judge ordered his extradition to Mexico, where he is undergoing trial.
Once the hearings and airing of evidence end, the District Attorney and the distinguished criminal defender Alonso Aguilar Zinser, will present their final arguments. Afterwards the judge will dictate sentence.
The “eyewitness” Luis Sánchez, did not witness the murder. However he declared that while watching TV the 4th of July , he came to know about the murder. Albeit he yielded his testimony 32 days later assuring that he saw a man .with Sergio Dorantes' features- leaving the crime scene at approximately the time took place.
A year and half later, in December 2005, the “eyewitness” recanted explaining that his imputation had been induced by the responsible of the Coyoacán police precinct: DA María del Rocío García, an agent from the Mexico City District Attorney's Office.
The “eyewitness” added that for his false declaration agent Rocío García had rewarded him with $1,500 pesos. Later on both the DA agent and “eyewitness” were arraigned.
The Human Rights Commission from Mexico City (CDHDF), took into consideration the fact that the District Attorney's Office resorted to one of the contradictory eyewitness' depositions to charge Sergio Dorantes and the other to arraign DA agent María del Rocío García and the very “eyewitness” -hence both depositions canceled each other- thus violating Dorantes' legal certainty.
However, the CDHDF did not request to the District Attorney's Office -as it should be- to drop the charge against the photojournalist, instead in a lukewarm fashion the CDHDF recommended to investigate the violations committed to the law by the public servants who participated in both investigations; that of the murder and the one of the paid testimony.
The murder was witnessed by no one, Dorantes' DNA was not found at the crime scene, on the weapon used and on the victim's body.
The sole “eyewitness” that assured seeing Dorantes leaving the house where the murder took place, recanted and accepted to have lied in exchange of a bribe made by a DA agent, with this fact the imputation made by the “eyewitness” lacks any credibility. Further, the DA Office admitted the recantation, as a result both “eyewitness” and DA agent were arraigned. Therefore, the only support to the accusation has vanished.
Sergio Dorantes is another victim of the perverse administration of justice we suffer. 65 years old, he ha been persecuted for the last eight years, three of them facing trial in jail. Nobody will give him back those years. Though the judge in charge must and can put an end to this injustice.
Now it's Sergio Dorantes's turn...
Justice in Mexico is a machinery which never corrects itself, never questions evidence once the guilt of the accused has been decreed; an apparatus of extreme cruelty, sustained by individuals --judges-- of naked obliviousness who, apparently, sleep quite well despite the fact that their decisions affect atrociously the life of so many innocent Mexicans.
The espirt de corps of the judges is not in doubt: rather than question an unjust decision --one so sweeping as to, first, jail an innocent man, and later keep him there in prison, in spite of exculpatory evidence shown to be, in fact, from his supposed victims-- the judges doggedly maintain the initial verdict, come hell or high water, because any correction would indicate, I suppose, an intolerable challenge for them, supreme and infallible pontiffs, demigods incapable of the slightest error and, above all, guardian high priests of an institution which should always exhibit an absolute supremacy, over individuals and their personal misfortunes, so that those same individuals may be the very first of the benighted to recieve justice's protection and aid.
But, as oblivious and inhuman as they are, it turns out that you may not even criticize nor review their mistakes --as eventually the very President of Mexico could, having tired of insisting that the actions carried out by the valiant Marines and hardworking Federal Police would never come to a good end since the judges entrusted with adjudicating the drug war claim to lack the judicial resources to, that's right!, process and punish the perpetrators whose guilt would seem self-evident-- because you would consquently be putting the "stability" of the Republic's institutions at risk, or something like that.
So scrupuluous are they when it comes to studying a case-file and rejecting it at the first sign of change and, look closely, so predisposed to pass sentence based on doubtful testimony, false evidence, mere supposition and arbitrarily obtained "confessions". Yes, and so inclined, the same men who cruelly persecute the defenseless citizens of this country, to happily grant shelter to the wicked, the scheming, the corrupt, the thieving, and the powerful.
And here we have the case of Antonio Ortega, better known for having been unjustly accused of several rapes and jailed for four years. The man first lost his job and later his home. His son was born while he was incarcerated. Now he goes free, thanks, for once, to the newsworthiness of his case and the good offices of the prosecutor who responded with exemplary diligence to the prodding of a journalist. Who will return to him, nevetheless, his lost years? And is it really necessary to make a film or have the editor-in-chief of a newspaper or form a citizen's campaign to simply get these judges to do their job --to hear appeals filed by a person who, evidence in hand, pleads for justice-- and that these occurences, instead of resulting favorably to the accused thanks to exceptional circumstances, be just a part of normal procedure?
And here we also have the story of Sergio Dorantes. This renowned photographer --he worked for Newsweek and many other media outlets-- was accused of killing his ex-wife by a witness who later retracted his testimony and could not give any specific information about the circumstances of the crime. And who should be the prime suspect but a former policeman who visited the woman the day of the murder and on whose shoes blood was found; a man who now, to the contrary, walks free and without a care in the world?
This is justice in Mexico: a machinery which never corrects itself, never questions evidence once the guilt of the accused has been decreed; an apparatus of extreme cruelty, sustained by individuals --judges-- of naked obliviousness who, apparently, sleep quite well despite the fact that their decisions affect atrociously the life of so many innocent Mexicans.
We've heard of these cases. But there many more, something intolerable in a country which aspires to prominence in the league of civilized nations. How much longer can we live with our eyes shut in indifference knowing that, in this very instant, innocent men remain in the hell that is prison?
Public Enemy Number One of Democracy
There is no rule of law in Mexico. Society functions but the state security and justice apparatus is arbitrary and savage. This is exemplified by the woeful case of the photojournalist Sergio Dorantes.
What stands out most about Mexico, when one stops to consider, is that the great majority of its citizens wake up every morning in their beds, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, go to work by car or bus or subway or on foot, eat their lunch at midday, return home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep, and the next day the story starts anew. I can attest to the truth of what I tell you. I've lived in Mexico City, and I've been across the country, top to bottom, several times. The life of the Mexican people is, for the most part, one of routine normality.
This is not only surprising, it is worthy of admiration. It speaks extraordinarily well of the Mexican capacity for civilized conviviality. I'm not referring to the context of ultra-violence which drug trafficking has generated. Because this is not the context in which the majority of citizens live, and moreover, is a relatively recent phenomenon which began in 2006 when the government "declared war" on the drug cartels. No, what I'm talking about is the fact that Mexico is, as Graham Greene once wrote back in the '30s, a lawless country. The police are ineffective and/or corrupt. the prosecutors are ineffective and/or corrupt, the judges are ineffective and/or corrupt. There is no rule of law in Mexico. Or at least not one that works. That is to say, Mexico, no matter how many elections it has conducted over the last 80 years, is not a real democracy. It is a country where the law of the jungle rules, the spirit of "every man for himself". A feral anarchy should reign; the iots seen a few weeks ago in London ought to be the daily norm. But no. To the contrary. In general, people behave with decent moderation. This is what so admirable. Society functions. It is the state apparatus responsible for administrating the law which is anarchic and feral.
This was very well understood by a photojournalist named Sergio Dorantes when a warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2003 for the alleged murder of his ex-wife, Alejandra Dehesa. This explains why he fled the country and sought refuge in the United States. I wrote about him in EL PAÍS in 2005. I wrote about him again in 2008, and now I'm writing about him once more three years later. I do it because I know him -I've worked with him- and because his case is sadly emblematic of what the Mexican judicial system has done to thousands and thousands of people. It has destroyed lives. In Dorantes's case, quite a good life, the fruit of enormous discipline, ambition, and hard work.
Born into poverty, at the age of 24 Dorantes emigrated, not to the United States but to England, learned photography, returned to Mexico 18 years later and forged a brilliant career, working for practically all of the most important newspapers and magazines in the western world. He married, separated, and in July of 2003 his ex-wife was found dead, stabbed in her neck with a knife, in the offices of Newsweek magazine where she worked. The police identified him as the prime suspect, but, despite the efforts of the prosecutor, a judge ruled there was no evidence against him. Soon after, the judge was replaced by another more amenable to the desires of the investigative agents, and he ordered that Dorantes be detained. At this point, he fled.
Dorantes remained in the United States for five years. It was a difficult odyssey; part of the time as a fugitive, part in and out of detention, part receiving help from American citizens outraged by the injustice to which he had been subjected, until in 2008, at the request of the Mexican government, a judge in California ordered, much to his dismay, his extradition.
Dorantes, now 65, could have appealed his extradition, but decided to return to Mexico, convinced, after having persuaded the brilliant Mexican lawyer Alonso Aguilar Zínser to represent him, that he would soon be declared innocent and released.
What's the injustice? It's simple, and grotesque, but nothing surprising in the Mexican context. The "legal" argument against Dorantes is based on "evidence" (it is difficult to avoid the clumsiness of putting quotes around those words), given by a "witness" who claimed to have seen Dorantes running from the scene of the crime at the time it supposedly occurred (although, so incompetent was the investigation that not even the hour is known with exactitude). In an extremely detailed statement revealing a prodigious memory, the testimony of the witness, Luis Sánchez, delivered a decisive blow to Dorantes. A year and a half later, in December 2005, Sánchez recanted. He stood before the prosecutor and said his earlier testimony had been all a lie; that the script had been prepared for him by an agent who participated in the case, and that this same agent had paid him 1000 pesos (some 56 Euros) to testify.
So convincing was his retraction that Sánchez was sentenced to six years in prison for perjury. Nothing would have been more logical, more overwhelmingly just right at that moment at the end of 2005, than to declare the case against Dorantes closed, beg his pardon and wish him well. But that not what happenned. The prosecutor's office hid Sánchez's retraction from Dorantes's lawyer and it only came to light by mere chance nine months later, thanks to the curiosity of a young man working for the Mexico City Human Rights Commission. Even so, the process of extradition against Dorantes continued, he was held in jail in the United States and later in Mexico. Three years later, with his health poor and his bank account empty, he remains imprisoned in Mexico City's Eastside Jail. Despite the attempts of his lawyer Aguilar Zínser, today there is no reason to believe that his nightmare will end.
No one really knows what motivates the Mexican judicial apparatus in its vendetta against Dorantes; perhaps even they do not know. This is the surreal labyrinth of Kafka's "The Trial" (the book's opening lines: "Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.") made real. It is, to choose an more contemporary analogy, the flip side of what happened in the case of Dominique Strauss Kahn, who was freed by the New York City District Attorney because it was discovered not so much that the witness against him had lied about the essential facts when she claimed he had raped her, but rather, in broad terms, that she was not credible.
The life and reputation of Dorantes, so admirable and decent like the majority of the Mexican people until he had the bad luck to run into the meat grinder of "the Law", have been destroyed by the Mexican legal system, a system, to put it one way, which has done the very same to infinitely more Mexicans much more defenseless than he, over these many years. The Gulf, Juarez, Sinaloa, Tijuana, and Zeta Cartels have also destroyed thousands of lives since the Mexican government declared war on them in 2006. Some destroy in a blatant and bloody manner; others, those in theory responsible for protecting the citizens, destroy in a more subtle and insidious manner, but costing, in the long run, more victims.
The violence spawned by the drug trade in Mexico has more to do with the weakness and corruption of its security and justice institutions than the power of the criminals themselves. The Mexican government does have the power to declare war. But it has chosen the wrong target. Public Enemy Number One lies within.
[...] A few days ago I was talking with John Carlin, a well-known journalist from the Spanish newspaper El País, and he recalled his stay in Mexico during the eighties. He is convinced that: “most Mexicans are honest and respect each other, despite the fact that Mexico is a lawless country”.
He made his point with the case of Sergio Dorantes, an innocent man jailed several years ago, due to the corruption and inefficiency of the Mexico City district attorneys and judges.
He is right, however, it helps little to complain or to relate quarrels between attorneys.
We better should demand from the president and judges to consider the wellfare of all.
Archives of Power
Accused of the murder of his former wife Alejandra Dehesa, photographer Sergio Dorantes has spent four years and seven months in prison. Since the "eyewitness" who incriminated Sergio admitted being bribed to do so, the District Attorney's Office could drop the charge. The factors to proceed that way are there.
Dorantes case staggers
The trial against the well-known photojournalist Sergio Dorantes, supposedly accused of murder with scant evidence by the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration, is crumbling. It turns out that the only evidence – a fabricated eyewitness – was exposed by the defense in 2006. The “eyewitness” has already been punished for falsely incriminating the photojournalist. It seems that the case is pushing local authorities to desist from the charge, if so, it'll be the same measure taken as with Ms Mariel Solís, the university student, who was unfailry accused of homicide.
Cassez, Sergio Dorantes, Bar Bar
The justice in Mexico is -to say something- strange and incoherent. We better do not mention the year in prison disehd out to the manager of the Bar Bar, or the sinister fabrication against photojournalist Sergio Dorantes.
Florence Cassez... what do you think about it?
Mexican justice is gahstly, it tolerates outrageous levels of impunity, it is stained by corruption, punishes with relentless indifference people absolutelly innocent (examples: the manager of the Bar Bar, who spent a year jailed before he was sent home. Photojournalist Sergio Dorantes, accused by willful fabricated witness with the murder of his former wife, he is still in prison), it does not guarantees legal certainty to its citizens. We are talking of a monstrous anomaly of the Mexican State.
I have for years been following the case of a photographer incarcerated in a capital prison for having murdered his wife. I have reviewed the available evidence and have concluded that he has been a victim and that he is innocent.
Seven years ago I began to receive emails from Sergio Dorantes, a prestigious photographer with work published in the principal media around the world. He is accused of the death by stabbing of his wife Alejandra Dehesa in July 2003. His first step was to flee, but later he was arrested in California; the people of the community of Sebastopol where he found refuge, considered him innocent and paid the bond so that he could enjoy house arrest.
I decided to investigate the case and to visit northern California and I heard his version. He does not seem to have the personality of a murderer, but whoever has visited a prison and has spoken with jail inmates knows how rare are the murderers, thieves or scammers who acknowledge their guilt. All are innocent or have just causes for their crimes, in fact, the study of their mental tricks provides the basis for the sociology of denials. To proceed in this world, one needs to follow the golden rule of the journalism of investigation:
“if your mother says that she loves you, verify it”.
The Commission of Human Rights of the Federal District applied the same rule and concluded that the Procuraduria of the capitol city violated the right of due process to Dorantes. Dorantes waived his right to an extradition trial and returned volu ntarily to Mexico City to stand trial. Alonso Aguilar Zinser, a well known Mexican criminal lawyer, who took the case, exposed the serious flaws in the case made by the authorities.
The evidence concerning errors and omissions has its ultimate expression in the behavior of Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez, the witness whose words are the principal evidence used by the Procuraduria of the capitol city for supporting the accusation. He is a fickle and peculiar witness.
August 4, 2003. Luis Eduardo decides to present himself to voluntarily declare before the Public Minister. He declares that he was walking in front of the house at Coyocan, where the murder took place, at the hour of the murder as calculated by the official experts. At that moment, he said, “a man suddenly left” (the house) and that “said person at that moment collided with his right side”, that the man “was upset” and that he crossed the “street rapidly going toward a red car that he got into quickly and pulled out rapidly”. This person was Dorantes.
December 26, 2005. Luis Eduardo returns to make a declaration. On this occasion, he says that the agent of the Public Minister of the Procuraduria of the capitol city in charge of the case, Maria del Rocio Garcia, looked for him because “she needed a witness to testify in an inquest” and that if he accepted “she would pay him the amount of 1000 pesos.” His mission was simple enough: to say that he had seen Dorantes leaving the house where the crime had been committed. He agreed to give the false declaration and, after memorizing the script, he presented it to the office of the MP Rocio, who told him not to give his address or his place of work and that he could change one digit of his phone number so that he could not be located. Two days later he confirms this recantation that exonerates Dorantes. After that he flees, but is arrested in 2008 and put in the same prison where Dorantes is incarcerated and, one more time, he changes his declaration.
March 4, 2009. Luis Eduardo, strengthened, goes back and clarifies “that the declarations of December 26 and 28, 2005 do not correspond to the truth, and that the personnel of the Procuraduria made him sign these declarations” after pressuring him. The witness faces the questions of the defense attorney, Alonso Aguilar Zinser, and answers with multiple contradictions. Then he is sentenced to 6 years three months of prison for false declarations. In April 2010 the authorities grant him the benefit of parole which prevents a cross examination from taking place between Luis Eduardo and Dorantes. There are indications that he will return to the path of a fugitive. During this same period, Rocio, the prosecutor who hired him, dies.
Many other irregularities exist in this “paradigmatic” case that demonstrates the weaknesses and miseries of Mexican justice and of the defenseless citizen. Dorantes seeks protection abroad in 2007 and presents his case before the Interamerican Commission of Human rights, that, according to informed sources, will rule (on the case) in 2011 and could show what happens in the capitol where, incidentally, we are at the vanguard in the protection of rights.
It would follow that the judges establish the guilt of the accused. When the system of justice is so deficient, the opinions of laymen are justified. Lacking the final verdict, but after reviewing the voluminous file, I am convinced that Dorantes is innocent.
Delia Sanchez del Angel collaborated in this column.
More concerning the Mexico City's authorities
The District Attorney's Office and the incumbent 24 penal judge, José Francisco Morales Ríos, have strived to deny Sergio Dorantes a due process, and they are reluctant to acknowledge the forensic reports that exonerate him from the murder of his ex-wife. Fortunately in Mexico City we have a Human Rights Commission who has protected the safety of Dorantes, currently jailed at Reclusorio Oriente.
More concerning the Mexico City's authorities
The District Attorney's Office and the incumbent 24 penal judge, José Francisco Morales Ríos, have strived to deny Sergio Dorantes a due process, and they are reluctant to acknowledge the forensic reports that exonerate him from the murder of his ex-wife. Fortunately in Mexico City we have a Human Rights Commission who has protected the safety of Dorantes, currently jailed at Reclusorio Oriente.
THE MEXICAN LABYRINTH
A known photojournalist is on trial and is afraid for his life, he is accused by more than one dubious testimony, of murdering his ex-wife.
Until five years ago, the film about the life of photojournalist Sergio Dorantes would have been one of a winner as he was born poor and overcame hard obstacles to arrive to the pinnacle of his profession. Today, he could be the main character of a Mexican version of the Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive. Two guards accompany Dorantes every time he leaves the cell, to protect him from be killed.
Accused at the end of 2003, by more than one dubious testimony, of stabbing to death his ex-wife, he fled to the USA. Three years later per the request of the Mexican authorities, was detained by the USA marshals and jailed for six months. An American judge agreed to free him on bail during his extradition proceedings started by the Mexico City District Attorney's Office, where the crime took place. Last month, the same judge -despite the perplexed and contradictory arguments presented by the Mexican authorities- decided that he was forced to succumb to the request of Mexico's authorities. Dorantes, 62, who worked for two decades for Newsweek magazine (and not as often for the New York Times and El País amongst many other publications) is jailed at the Reclusorio Oriente jail in Mexico City, subjected to the law of his country, sleeping amongst cockroaches and rats, afraid constantly to be killed in his cell.
The Hollywood version of The Fugitive inexorably advances towards a clean end. The Mexican version is tangled, opaque and cruel. Mexico, as Octavio Paz said, is a labyrinth. For Dorantes, whose case has been denounced in detail by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, it is today an exit-less labyrinth. It is the same for thousands of Mexicans, victims of a judicial system characterized, according to a report issued in 2007 by Amnesty International of: “cases of arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment, denial of the due process, and unfair trials”.
Dorantes was tortured brutally in 989 after photographing a story about drug-trafficking. He fled in 2003 as he knew well the deep abyss existing in Mexico – as Amnesty has denounced- between what the law says and how it is applied.
The most recent version from the Mexico City District Attorney's Office about the case is that after an “arduous litigation”, 31 declarations and 18 forensic reports blamed Dorantes. This is a deliberate naive reading of the case file, points out the most respected Mexican lawyer: “Most of the evidence registers that there was a homicide, that's undeniable, but the evidence does not link Dorantes with it”, said the attorney.
Alejandra Dehesa was found dead at 03:15 the 4th of July, 2003, by two policemen and the relatives of the deceased at the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek Magazine where she worked as a secretary. Dehesa's body, 47, was lying in a pool of blood in a bathroom, with a 35 centimeter kitchen knife in her neck. From the first minute, the investigation lacked of professional rigor. Before the forensic team arrived, a dozen people had tread on the crime scene, not excluding the press photographers of the sensationalist Mexican media, who alerted by the police, photographed the stabbed body which next day half of Mexico saw.
According to the Mexican judge who denied to free the accused after his extradition last month, the “presumed responsibility” of Dorantes rests mainly on the declaration of an eyewitness who said he saw the accused leaving the crime scene around seven o'clock the evening of the 2nd of July 2003, the approximate time and date when according to the authorities, the murder happened. Two years later, the same eyewitness, a young messenger named Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, made a recantation under oath and videotaped at the Mexico City District Attorney's Office and stated that he had memorized a false declaration written by María del Rocío García, a woman D.A. agent, and that she paid him a thousand pesos (less than a hundred Euros at the time) to incriminate Dorantes. For the attorney of Dorantes, Aguilar Zinser, there is a second fact that undermines all the credibility from the investigation. To be able to identify Dorantes as the “presumed killer”, Mexican law requires that the time of death be proven in a “irrefutable manner”.
According to the case file, the murder happened between 18:00 and 19:15 the 2nd of July, but the attorney insists that “there is no scientific or technical evidence that supports this fact”. For this reason, even if it were true that the eyewitness saw Dorantes leaving the crime scene that day around 19:00 pm, his testimony would lack value.
According to the lawyer, the problem resides on the fact that the time of death was established by criminalistic technicians and not by forensic doctors, who would have been the right people to reach a scientific conclusion. The crux of the matter is in the recorded body temperature of the victim, this was taken by the criminalistic technicians, approximately at dawn the 4th of July. “The Bouchut formula, as it is known, consists in subtracting one centigrade degree for each hour since the time of death, and afterwards half a degree for each consecutive hour”, the attorney explained. Therefore, the evidence points that Alejandra Dehesa lost her life not around 19:00 pm the 2nd of July, but rather at around 14:00 pm the 3rd of July 2003.
Amongst the evidence in the case file there is one that indicates that “blood traces” were found on a glove at Dorantes’ home. However, in the forensic report in the case file it is established that it was not determined whether it was human blood, much less that of the victim. There was a psychology report that concluded that Dorantes might be the killer, yet as Aguilar Zinser points out, the report is a “completely subjective” opinion as Dorantes does not have a criminal record nor a history of physical aggression against his former wife.
While Aguilar Zinser prepares his arguments for the high court in order to attain the freedom of his client, this is a prisoner at Reclusorio Oriente, afraid that an anonymous inmate -in exchange of another thousand pesos- takes away his life. Acknowledging the seriousness of the threat, the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City managed to get the Mexico City District Attorney's Office to assign two guards to Dorantes to watch him every time he leaves his cell. Yet his future is uncertain, depending on arbitrary forces over which he lacks any control.
In the end of the film The Fugitive, the innocence of the main character is proven and the real killer is caught. But in the real life of the Mexican version, still, until today, remain questions and answers and the main character has suffered in a irreparable way, yet after five and a half years, the law enforcement people still are not any nearer to establishing who killed Alejandra Dehesa.
Sergio Dorantes extradited
The photojournalist Sergio Dorantes, due to an investigation which indicted him for the murder of the secretary of Newsweek magazine, has been extradited to continue his trial facing Mexican justice. The judge who agreed to his extradition recognized that the Mexico City District Attorney's Office (PGJDF) did “not act with honesty during the extradition proceedings”.
The magistrate from the northern California district, decided to extradite photojournalist Sergio Dorantes. The judge declared himself unable to decide between the testimony and recanting of the key eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, whose testimony is the only evidence that ties the photojournalist with the murder of former Newsweek magazine secretary, Alejandra Dehesa Pérez.
After the verdict of the judge on the 3rd of October, Dorantes was detained. In a letter addressed to the newsroom of Contralínea dated the 7th of October, from North County jail in Oakland, California, Dorantes pointed out that the judge was reluctant to decide extradition as the “PGJDF” sent malicious information and did not act with honesty during the extradition proceedings”.
THE MALICIOUS INFORMATION OF PGJDF
In a letter addressed to the newsroom on September 11, 2008, the photographer warned that: “The Mexico City District Attorney's Office” continues lying to the federal authorities of the U.S.A. and refuses to reopen the case and consider the evidences in my favor”.
Since February 2007 -when the photojournalist was detained by U.S.A. authorities- Magistrate Joseph Spero delayed his decision five times, Dorantes was already free on bail. The Mexico City District Attorney's Office was obliged to close the investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 with penal cause 207/2006 in order to determine if he would extradite Dorantes to Mexican authorities. The investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 was started against the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, the D.A. agent María del Rocío García and Alfredo Briceño, and they were charged with perjury and obstruction of the justice.
The appointment of Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa as head of PGJDF was supported by President Felipe Calderón the 16th of June, 2008, and on the 30th of July the Chief District Attorney Miguel Mancera denied that the D.A. agent María del Rocío García, took part in the investigation COY-2/969/03-07 with penal cause 214/2003.
A document issued by Miguel Angel Mancera to Mónica Angélica Aguila Torres, assistant of penal processes “A”, assures that after exhaustively reviewing the case file, “it was found that María del Rocío García did not take part in the investigation”. The document states that a D.A. agent “can be authorized to possibly participate in an investigation, but this does not mean that they forcibly participate and much less that the D.A. agent determines the result of the investigation”.
In February 2003, in the case file FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 from the Internal Affairs of the PGJDF,
D. A. Agent María del Rocío García stated that she did not know how the investigation COY-2/969/03-07 was put together. However, Contralínea has copies of the case file records that prove that D.A. agent María del Rocío García was present at the house search of Dorantes.
D.A. agent Ricardo Cortés Bonilla requested in July 2003 that the house search be carried out by the office of Rocío García. The document 200-207-100/I-10302 dated the 31st of July 2003, concerning the report of computer forensic Verónica Rojas Hernández, shows that the “inspection” (of the personal computer of Dorantes) took place in front of D.A. agent María del Rocío García (see Contralínea 104).
Other malicious information by the PGJDF was related to the recantation of eyewitness Sánchez Martínez. The 26th of December 2005, the eyewitness stated that he had been bribed by D.A. agent Rocío García and her half brother Alfredo Briceño, paying him one thousand pesos so that he could incriminate the photojournalist. The eyewitness declared that he saw Sergio Dorantes leaving the crime scene where Dehesa Pérez died.
In May 2007, D.A. agent Leoncio Vázquez López from the penal court 24, denied that the Sánchez Martínez recantation existed. This affidavit was supported by the PGJDF who insisted to the U.S.A. authorities, that such recantation did not exist.
A document from the San Francisco D.A, stated that: “The claim made by Sergio Dorantes concerning that the eyewitness recanted his saying ought to be ignored, as representatives of the Mexico City District Attorney's Office assured the U.S. Department of State that such recantation does not exist, therefore his argument lacks merit”. (see Contralínea 83)
Due to this statement, the magistrate denied bail to the photojournalist. Dorantes’ defender proved that the recantation existed with a notarized copy. The U.S D.A.’s office acknowledged the validity of the recantation and warned the now chief D.A. from Mexico City that if he continued sending lies in the presented evidence they would abandon the case and Dorantes would not be extradited. In August 2007, the photojournalist was freed on bail. The decision of Magistrate Spero was supported by Federal Judge Martin Jenkins as he considered that: “there were serious irregularities and the fabrication of evidence committed by the Mexican authorities”. The defense of Dorantes pointed out that: “once the lie became unsupported, the requesting country (Mexico) insisted to the court that under Mexican law a recantation is irrelevant”.
In June 2008, the seventh chamber of the Superior Tribunal of Justice decided to issue an arrest warrant against the eyewitness Sánchez Martínez with the intention of closing the investigation. This meant for Dorantes that the PGJDF was “attempting to extradite him at any cost”.
The Mexico City District Attorney's Office (PGJDF) issued an arrest warrant only against the eyewitness and not against Rocío García and her brother. At first, the arrest warrant was denied by the judge of the 24 penal chamber from the Reclusorio Oriente and this decision was appealed by the PGJDF and finally the Superior Tribunal accepted to issue the warrant.
According to Dorantes’ defense, to the Mexican authorities, with the arrest warrant, the whole investigation was closed and that the photojournalist had to be sent to Mexico. The defense added that the judges that agreed to issue the arrest warrant against the eyewitness supported their decision on the testimony of Rocío García as she denied being involved in the investigation against Dorantes.
“Given the blatant perjury in the declarations (of PGJDF) -the defense lawyer’s arguments support- committed by the Mexico City District Attorney's Office, who is presumed to have bribed the eyewitness, and the dishonest nature of only issuing an arrest warrant against the eyewitness Sánchez Martínez (a warrant that, by the way, lacks legal substance) it is obvious of the lack of clarity and certainty. Therefore, the court cannot find probable responsibility, as the evidence presented by the PGJDF lacks integrity and reliability”.
The defense lawyers argue that the arrest warrant against Sánchez Martínez doesn't mean that the investigation of the case against the photojournalist has concluded. They point out that on the contrary, Recommendation 7/2007 issued by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, requested the PGJDF to correct the violations committed during the investigation against Dorantes.
“Amongst the lack of legal certainty -the defense adds- there is a very clear reason, the authorities have not demonstrated with enough degree of trust, that Dorantes is guilty of homicide”.
Charged with perjury during his recantation, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez was detained at the Reclusorio Oriente jail in June 2008. According to the letter that Dorantes sent to Contralínea on the 11th of September, during his second hearing (Sanchez Martinez) confessed to have lied during his recantation.
In the letter, the accused of the murder of the secretary of the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek, Alejandra Dehesa Perez, commented that the view of the Ninth District Court of California was that the Mexican judge 24 should decide if the witness’s last testimony is valid. Afterwards the (California) magistrate decided the photographer would be extradited; this happened the 3rd of October.
Interviewed by Contralínea in February 2008, the american lawyer of Dorantes, Dennis Riordan stated that “There is not proven probable cause”, that is enough evidence to determine guilt. The 25 of April 2007 the then deputy D.A. from Mexico City Miguel A. Mancera declared to Reforma newspaper that the charge against Dorantes was not supported by a single evidence, but for 31 testimonies and 18 forensic tests.
In an analysis of the investigation made in 2004, the Human Rights attorney Leonel Rivero concluded that it was highly probable that the crime scene was manipulated, that there were serious mistakes in the analysis of the forensic tests, and that the involment of suspect Oscar Jorge Sánchez Patiño at the crime scene, was not investigated in depth. This suspect declared to have met Dehesa to pay her $1,000 pesos that he owed her. Was detained as probable resposible amd freed by D.A. agent Ricardo Cortez Bonilla.
Another report made in December 2004 by attorney Bárbara Zamora, observed that the testimony of the named Gonzalo Espizel Lozoya, who during the search of the crime scene pointed out to police the precise location where the body was found. Besides -points out the report- the time of death was missing in the autopsy report, yet this was pointed out by the investigating D.A. agent, this agent stated that the 2 July 2003, the photojournalist took the life of Alejandra Dehesa between the 18:07 and 19:00 hours.
“The D.A. agent -warned Zamora- not being a forensic technician, is impossibilitated to establish the time of death with such precision, it is easy to notice that he did it with the aim to place the time of death to his hypothesis”.
Since then this attorney warned that one month after the murder “appeared” the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, who declared that the 2nd July 2003 between 19:15 and 19:30 pm bunped into Dorantes, who in a rush was leaving the crime scene. The attorney stated: “This version is not credible, it seems an ad hoc testimony to support the conclusion reached by the D.A. agent on his arrest warrant”.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Letter from The Big Pictures
I got an e-mail from Sergio Dorantes, “The Big Pictures”, the photojournalist accused of killing his wife, the secretary of the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek magazine in 2003.
Dorantes fled but was detained in the USA in February 2007 and sent to a maximum security jail. The Mexican government requested his extradition. While the extradition proceedings took place, a judge in California freed him as he considered that Dorantes did not present any danger to the community.
He wrote to me to explain that the Mexico City District Attorney's Office who accuses him was trying to: “extradite me with lies proven in official documents and in affidavits”. And the reasoning of this is that the key witness, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, who in 2003 declared that he saw “The Big Pictures” leaving the crime scene the day of the murder, declared in 2005 that he had been bribed by the District Attorney's agent María del Rocío García to blame the photojournalist.
With his e-mail, he sent me a new declaration of Sánchez Martínez, from June 23, 2008, made to the 24 penal judge of Mexico City, when he ratified his lying in 2003.
Dorantes ended his e-mail saying: “The accusations made against me in California are through affidavits sent by the Mexico City District Attorney's Offices, therefore this office cannot claim that there are errors or mistakes in their translations, the affidavits have been reviewed by professionals here in Mexico. Ciro, I consider that with these documents it is possible to complain publicly that the Mexico City District Attorney's Office cannot prove my responsibility”.
“The Big Pictures” handed himself over to the American authorities and signed the documents to avoid extradition. He was taken to the Santa Clara jail where he waited for his return to Mexico, which took place the 24th of October.
He wrote to me in a later mail: “I return to México of my own will, confident that I have enough evidence in my favor”.
The U.S.A. extradites presumed murderer of Newsweek secretary
After a few years of legal battles and having been detained in a jail in Oakland, California, Sergio Dorantes Zurita, the presumed killer of the Newsweek magazine secretary Alejandra Dehesa, was presented behind bars yesterday to penal judge 24 at the Reclusorio Oriente jail. The photojournalist who is accused of killing Dehesa, who was his wife in 2003, was deported by U.S.A. authorities and taken to the Reclusorio Oriente. During his first declaration to the judge, Dorantes Zurita denied all the charges attributed to him and requested the extension of the Constitutional term, for this reason, the judge will determine next Friday as to whether he is to be put on trial.
U.S. sends photographer wanted in killing to Mexico
Mexican authorities say the U.S. has extradited a freelance photographer suspected of stabbing his estranged wife to death in Mexico City.
The federal Attorney General's office on Saturday said it will turn Sergio Dorantes over to Mexico City prosecutors. It was not clear when he arrived in Mexico.
Prosecutors accuse Dorantes of killing his wife Alejandra Perez in 2003. She was found with a knife lodged in her neck in the Mexico City offices of Newsweek magazine, where she worked as an administrator.
Dorantes denies any involvement.
His photos have appeared in publications including Newsweek and the New York Times.
Following a court hearing on October 3, 2008, before Magistrate Joseph Spero of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Sergio Dorantes Zurita decided to end his battle against extradition and to submit to the jurisdiction of the Mexican courts to face the charge that he murdered his ex-wife, Alejandra Dehesa Perez, in July of 2003.
Extradition proceedings began in San Francisco in February of 2007, after Mr. Dorantes Zurita had applied for political asylum in the United States, in so doing voluntarily informing United States authorities of the charges pending against him in Mexico City. In July of 2007, Judge Spero took the extraordinary step of freeing Mr. Dorantes-Zurita from custody, finding that he presented no risk of flight or danger to the community.
Judge Spero also found exceptional reasons for freeing Mr. Dorantes Zurita in that the only eyewitness against him, a Mr. Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez, in 2005 had recanted that testimony and in fact admitted that he had been bribed to give it by an investigating prosecutor in the case, Maria del Rocio Garcia. Indeed, at the time of Mr. Dorantes’ arrest in the extradition, a prosecution was pending in Mexico against both Sanchez Martinez and Rocio Garcia for offering false evidence against Mr. Dorantes Zurita. The Human Rights Commission of Mexico City had found that the continued pursuit of the murder charges against Mr. Dorantes Zurita while the false evidence charges were pending constituted a violation of Dorantes Zurita’s constitutional rights.
At the hearing on October 3, 2008, Judge Spero castigated the Government of Mexico for misleading him during the course of the extradition proceedings, stating that the Procuraduria of Mexico City “started off the case by denying the existence of the recantation, when that was demonstrably false and publicly false. And one wonders why they would do that in such circumstances, but they did that. They finished the case by putting in evidence...by the investigating prosecutor, Rocio Garcia, that at least raised some serious questions about its veracity.”
Judge Spero also commented on the “unusual place” that he found himself in, given that The Procuraduria of Mexico City wanted “the Court to sustain a probable cause finding based on the testimony of a person [Sanchez Martinez] they have now accused of perjury [in his recantation].” Judge Spero concluded “that if it was clear that the recantation was true, and it was clear that the original accusation was false,” that probable cause to extradite would be lacking. While there were “lots of pieces of evidence going both ways,” Judge Spero ruled that in an extradition matter it was not “the province of the Court to do that evaluation” of credibility, and thus that he was compelled to grant Mexico’s request for extradition.
While Mr. Dorantes Zurita has the right to challenge the finding of extraditability in several higher federal courts, he has concluded that, having exposed the profound flaws in the Procuraduria of Mexico City’s case against him, it is time to return to Mexico and fight in his home country to establish his innocence of the murder charge. He therefore voluntarily surrendered to the United States Marshals following the October 3rd hearing, and has waived his right to oppose further extradition proceedings. He is presently in custody in California awaiting what he hopes will be a swift return to Mexico.
Suspect in slaying to be sent to Mexico
In a California court Wednesday, former press photographer Sergio Dorantes waived his right to contest extradition to Mexico to face charges in the 2003 slaying of his estranged wife at Newsweek magazine's Mexico City offices, according to court documents.
The court issued an order that U.S. authorities transfer Dorantes to Mexican custody.
It is unclear how soon the order will be executed, but the ruling brings to a close the latest chapter in the bizarre case of a bungled police investigation propped up by a principal witness who recanted twice.
In the five years since Alejandra Dehesa's killing, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez said he saw Dorantes at the scene, recanted because he claimed he was paid by a prosecutor to lie, and returned to his original story, according to case documents.
The latest recantation followed his arrest this year on charges of making false statements to authorities in his first recantation, according to Mexican authorities.
Dorantes fled Mexico City in 2003 after a warrant for his arrest was issued in the slaying. He was arrested in California last year.
Once Dorantes is in Mexico, a judge will decide within a week whether to have him stand trial or to throw out the charges. If the case goes to trial, Dorantes will probably remain jailed for its duration, which could be many months to a few years.
In spite of a lack of evidence linking Dorantes to the scene of the crime, Manuel García, Dorantes' Mexico City lawyer, was not optimistic the charges would be dismissed.
A judge would release Dorantes on lack of evidence “if this were a normal case,” said García, adding that a judge would likely rule against Dorantes because of pressure from prosecutors.
The Dehesa crime scene was contaminated by street police officers and press before investigators arrived. Forensic tests on apparent blood traces on items belonging to Dorantes and another suspect in the case yielded no results.
García said the other suspect, a taxi driver, was not thoroughly investigated.
Last year, Mexico City's Human Rights Commission recommended the prosecutor's office improve guarantees of due process and its crime-scene preservation after examining the Dehesa killing.
“The truth is that the police work was a terrible disgrace,” García said.
A California court could rule today to extradite former news photographer Sergio Dorantes to Mexico to face charges in the 2003 slaying of his wife.
It would conclude the latest chapter in a bizarre case that underscores the shoddy investigative and forensic police work that plagues Mexico's corruption-prone prosecutors' offices.
A month after the stabbing death of Alejandra Dehesa, an assistant at the Mexico City offices of Newsweek, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez told investigators he saw a rattled Dorantes leave the scene of the crime around the time of the killing.
In 2005, Sánchez recanted, saying he fabricated the story in exchange for $100 from a prosecutor.
But earlier this year, Mexico City police arrested Sánchez, who apparently retracted his recantation.
He now stands by his original story and is facing charges of lying to authorities about the alleged bribe, according to documents filed with the California court handling the extradition hearing.
A murder trial centered on a witness of dubious credibility would probably be laughed out of a U.S. court. But an extradition request is not about deciding guilt. As long as Mexico says it has a witness placing Dorantes at the scene of the crime, the judge is likely to grant extradition, said Dennis Riordan, Dorantes' U.S. lawyer.
Last Friday, Judge Joseph Spero tentatively ruled to grant extradition today.
Dorantes was taken into custody and is expected to waive further legal proceedings against extradition, Riordan said.
But Spero is expected to issue an opinion on the case, too, and he might come down heavily on Mexico.
“He kicked the Mexican government around,” Riordan said of Spero during the drawn-out extradition procedure.
Riordan said the extradition process took so long, in part, because prosecutors, while insisting on the veracity of the first Sánchez statement, had not closed the investigation into the prosecutor accused of masterminding the alleged bribe.
But last year, Mexico City prosecutors said the accused prosecutor, María del Rocío García, was cleared of wrongdoing.
The court also was given a number of apparently contradictory and confusing statements from Mexican authorities.
“They've created an embarrassing imbroglio of contradictory statements and so forth, but at the end of the day, given the United States' interest in having Mexico extradite people, it's very difficult for an American court not to grant them extradition if they persist in the request,” Riordan said.
This is just the latest twist in the troubled investigation into the Dehesa slaying.
How Sánchez recanted once was a mystery. How he recanted twice is a state secret.
Manuel García, Dorantes' Mexico City lawyer and no relation to María del Rocío García, said authorities did not allow Dorantes' legal team access to Sánchez or to the written record of his most recent retraction.
The Mexico City attorney general's office, which was shaken up since a botched June raid on a club full of underage partygoers that led to a stampede that killed 12, did not respond to interview requests.
The case has been plagued by shoddy police work. Police did not properly preserve the scene of the crime, which was contaminated by member of the media and officers. Forensic testing on items found with trace amounts of blood belonging to both Dorantes and another suspect did not yield results.
Dorantes fled Mexico City after a warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2003. He was arrested in California last year.
The photojournalist Sergio Dorantes has been detained at the North County Jail in Oakland, California, U.S.A. He has been accused of murdering his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa, despite the many irregularities in the case, as it was the fabrication of an "eyewitness" by the Mexico City District Attorney's Office. We will closely follow this trial.
Scotch on the rocks
...And let’s not forget that Mexico’s justice system is accident prone. Tomorrow, Sergio Dorantes, an outstanding Mexican news photographer, faces an extradition hearing in the United States that is likely to prove the point. Dorantes is accused by the Mexican authorities of murdering his ex-wife five years ago.
The evidence against him comes from just one witness, who has confessed that he lied when he gave it. The Mexican authorities know that the evidence is false – and the papers they filed with the US court prove it. Yet they still want to try Dorantes!
Back in 1938, the surrealist André Breton confessed he couldn’t teach Mexicans anything about surrealism that they didn’t already know. You can still see why.
MORE OF THE SAME
If amongst all the problems related to the insecurity [in México] a common theme cannot be amalgamated into one, there is a reason. If what we are seeking is that justice be given to all and that the crimes are solved according to the law, then we definitely are walking on a rough alleyway.
Some time ago, in this column, I wrote about the case of Sergio Dorantes, who since August 2003, is waiting for justice. Meanwhile, he keeps fighting on against the rigged testimony of a woman agent from the District Attorney’s Office, the inefficiency of those that were first at the crime scene contaminating it, a taxi driver that turned out to be an ex-policeman in a neighboring state who had blood found on him and it was never analyzed, also, the stubborn attitude of three Chief District Attorneys, including the incumbent Miguel Ángel Mancera, who insist on attributing to him the murder of his ex-wife without even carrying out a regular investigation, and even worse, not punishing those that committed the many irregularities during the investigation, but fabricating a guilty one instead of finding the solid evidence to blame him.
As long as all of this is not done properly we will continue having more of the same: ENOUGH!
The corruption and inefficiency of the capital’s police and District Attorney’s Office has ruined lives. In the case of the murder of Alejandra Dehesa, Sergio Dorantes was accused by México City’s authorities. The Ombudsman of the capital issued three recommendations, one of which concluded that Sergio Dorantes’ human rights had been violated. This case, loaded with embroilment, will be reviewed very soon as Dorantes is willing to be extradited from the United States to face here a closely watched trial. In cases like this we will see if the much promised judicial reform is serious.
“I am the victim of a proven fabrication. I consider that I must make public the abuses and violations to the law by those that constitutionally are in charge to respect it and protect the citizens. They should not accuse them with the fabrication of witnesses and evidence”.
“I insist, despite the great risk that my family and myself are facing by denouncing openly the real “organized crime” inside the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF), it is my duty to expose the corrupt elements for my own benefit and that of the people of México City”.
“It is my intention to attain a legal precedent and that the fabrication of witnesses [by the authorities] ends”.
“I request the PGJDF to reopen my case. I am willing to be investigated (without any fabrication) and further, be under house arrest while the investigation is carried out. I consider that an honest investigation would reveal the true murderer of my ex-wife and that he would then be punished”.
“Right now with the tragic kidnapping of the boy Fernando Martí [a boy kidnapped and murdered] the rotten elements at the PGJDF must be exposed. I was kidnapped in 1989 and therefore I know what it is like to be tortured”.
The former statement is made by Sergio Dorantes, who faces extradition in California by the Mexico City’s authorities to face charges as presumed responsible of the murder of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa.
His case is well known and it has been reported in Mexican, American and European media. Sergio Dorantes and Alejandra Dehesa got married in December 2000 and they separated two years later. Both stayed in touch as Alejandra Dehesa worked as an assistant to the Mexico City’s correspondent of Newsweek magazine. Dorantes worked for that magazine as a photojournalist.
On the 4th of July 2003, Dehesa was found dead at the offices of the magazine in Coyoacán borough, in the south of México City. She had been stabbed to death.
According to the case file, a month after the crime an eyewitness appeared of his own will to give his testimony.
The eyewitness, named Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, declared having seen Sergio Dorantes leaving from the magazine’s office in a rush and climbing into a red car to escape. The Mexico City District Attorney’s Office charged Dorantes with homicide and Penal judge 24th issued an arrest warrant against the photojournalist.
Although, in the case there are two case files. In one, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez accused, in the other he recanted his accusation. The recantation was found by the México City Human Rights Commission who issued a Recommendation against the PGJDF to review the investigation. This unusual eyewitness of dubious credibility, by his testimony, is bringing down an already inefficient investigation.
Dorantes, who from the start claimed innocence, left the country. The 20th of February 2007, he was detained due to an extradition request made by the PGJDF.
Dorantes says: “the 24th of August 2007, I was freed on bail from the maximum security prison of North County in Oakland, California. I was in custody for 6 months and 4 days. On the 24th of July federal magistrate Joseph Spero granted bail, the prosecutor appealed, and on the 22nd of August federal judge Martin Jenkins agreed with magistrate Spero’s verdict. They coincided that in my case there were ‘several serious irregularities and the fabrication of evidence’ committed by the authorities”.
Judge Spero again deferred his decision concerning the extradition requested by the Mexican government to the American government and asked the Mexican government to provide more evidence, as he cannot dictate a sentence based on the testimony of an eyewitness that recanted.
It does not seem like an extraordinary story. Not really, if we abide by the many testimonies made by people that claim to be unfairly accused and with deficient evidence.
For sure, in the apparatus of justice there is proven, trained, honest and able staff. They are found in the police force, in the investigative areas, in the district attorney’s office and even in the courts, although they are subdued and sunk by the scheming of criminal interests. The policemen cheat to get awards (now it turns out that awarded policemen are the leaders of bands of organized crime), swindle to obtain bonuses for their work, and incriminate innocents to attain economic incentives. For every five cases investigated, three are solved to fulfill their quotas and two are left to the highest bidders dealing in corruption, complicity and negotiation.
The administration of crime, rather than that of justice, builds the fiction in our law system.
Dorantes claims innocence. He is willing to go back to México and face the charge. He asks to be judged in an impartial manner, without the fabrication of evidence. He wants, nevertheless, to set a precedent of denouncement and determination. Will anyone in the authorities pay attention to his words?
Last week we reported that the deputy District Attorney from México City (PGJDF) Rafael Mateous Poumián had a conflict of interest: defending the family of Alejandra Dehesa and being a public servant. He did not take notice of this. Now we know by the words of Ombudusman Emilio Álvarez Icaza that Mateos Poumián, who was in charge of the agency No 50 of the México City District Attorney’s Office, tried to avoid the “proper administration of justice” (in the News Divine case where 12 youths were killed in a disco). Also we have been informed that when Mateos Poumián was in charge of the Miguel Hidalgo precinct, he did not perform his job well and that the gun used in the murder of the Guindi case [a very high profile case] disappeared. What will follow?
Carroll meets Kafka
Speculation is growing over the identity of the likely successors to Ortega and Félix. Among the names being bandied about is that of one of Félix’s deputies, Rafael Mateos Poumián.
Mateos Poumián’s law firm represented the family of Alejandra Dehesa, the Newsweek office manager in Mexico City who was murdered just over five years ago. Since then the family has consistently pointed an accusatory finger at Dehesa’s former husband, the photographer Sergio Dorantes.
Does Mateos Poumián’s law firm still represent the family? Jorge Meléndez, the journalist who raised the issue this week in his El Universal column, says no one has called to deny his information. And it would amount to a huge conflict of interest in a country where conflicts of interest regrettably abound.
Dorantes is currently awaiting an extradition hearing in the United States on a murder charge brought by the very office of which Mateos Poumián is deputy head. But the hearing has been postponed while the US judge considers the evidence in a case that Dorantes’ US lawyer describes as “Lewis Carroll meet Franz Kafka”.
Evidence before the US court shows that the case against Dorantes is based on the evidence of a witness who was paid by a detective in the Mexico City prosecutor’s office but, as the city’s human rights commission found out, he later recanted. Making matters still worse, the detective in question perjured herself by claiming that she had nothing to do with the inquiry and knew nothing of it – “bald-faced lies” in the words of Dorantes’ lawyer, and he has the official documents from the case file to prove it.
Was it for money?
In the case of Sergio Dorantes, accused of the murder of Alejandra Dehesa, there is a very dark implication. The deputy district attorney from Mexico City District Attorney’s Office, Rafael Mateos Poumián, was the criminal lawyer representing Alejandra’s relatives. Has Mateos Poumián resigned as their attorney? It is a question that should be asked in a country where public servants are entrepreneurs, and even congressmen defend economy consortiums to get taxes back from the government. An example: ruling party politicians.
Sergio Dorantes has been persecuted by the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) for the murder of Alejandra Dehesa. Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, the only witness against him, apparently was bribed, and has recanted. This 27th of June there’ll be an extradition hearing and if he is sent back, the well known photojournalist will have serious problems as the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted him without solid evidence. A serious matter.
SERGIO DORANTES CLOSER TO EXTRADITION
In the homicide case of Alejandra Dehesa, administrator of the México City Bureau of Newsweek magazine, the seventh chamber of the Superior Tribunal of Justice from México City decided to issue an arrest warrant against the fabricated eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez. “With that decision, the request of the American judge is fulfilled and places me closer to extradition” considered the journalist Sergio Dorantes.
With the intention of closing investigation FCH/CUA-2T2/3755/05-12 with penal cause 207/2006, the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) managed to get the seventh chamber of the Superior Tribunal of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against the fabricated eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez. This decision – according to the accused Sergio Dorantes Zurita – was sought by the PGJDF “at any cost” to force his extradition.
During the integration of investigation COY-2/969/03-07 – which was opened due to the murder of the Newsweek Mexico Bureau administrator, Alejandra Dehesa, which took place the 2nd of July 2003 - another investigation [FCH] was initiated against the District Attorney’s agent María del Rocío García, Alfredo Briseño, and Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez for the probable commission of the crime of perjury and crimes in the scope of the administration of justice.
The PGJDF was obliged to close the second investigation so that the American judge, Joseph Spero, of the Northern California Court District, could determine if he would hand over to the Mexican authorities photojournalist Sergio Dorantes Zurita, who is accused of the homicide of his ex-wife, and now faces extradition proceedings in the United States, where he was detained the 20th of February 2007 and freed on bail after six months.
This past February, Judge Joseph Spero granted 90 days to the México City District Attorney’s Office to let him know whether they would proceed to close investigation FCH/CUH-2T2/3755/05-12. If the order was not fulfilled, Dorantes Zurita would not be extradited. The México City District Attorney’s Office resorted to request the arraignment only of Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez. This request was denied by Penal judge 24 from the Eastside jail and was finally accepted by the Superior Tribunal of Justice from México City after an appeal by the PGJDF. The photojournalist thinks that with these proceedings, the Mexican authorities attempted at any cost to attain his extradition. His lawyer, Manuel García, denies the fact that it is legally possible to request the arraignment of only one of the accused when the investigation includes more than one [accused]: “This decision exempts them [Rocío García and Alfredo Briseño] whereas the other [the witness] they assure, lied in his recantation”.
As the only eyewitness, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez assured that he saw the photojournalist leaving the crime site. For the American defender of the journalist, attorney Dennis Riordan, the testimony of the eyewitness is the only evidence that ties him to the crime site as: “there is not proven cause, that is to say, sufficient evidence to find the probable responsibility”.
On the 26th of December 2005, the eyewitness declared that he was bribed by María del Rocío García and her half-brother Alfredo Briseño Martínez with $1,000 pesos in order to declare against the photojournalist. This revelation triggered investigation FCH/CUH-2T2/3755/05-12 and changed Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez and Alfredo Briceño Martínez from witness to probable responsible for perjury to the authorities, and the District Attorney’s agent María del Rocío García was charged with the commission of crimes in the scope of administration of justice.
Inclusive, the PGJDF denied to the USA government that the recantation of the eyewitness existed. This can be seen in a document elaborated by the District Attorney’s Office from San Francisco, California, which reads: “ The claim of Dorantes Zurita about the eyewitness that recanted his testimony should be ignored, officials from the Mexican government assured the Department of State that such a recantation did not exist and that his argument had no merit”, this, despite the fact that the recantation was broadcast on television and there are legal documents signed by the eyewitness stating that he was bribed.
At the hearing which took place the 23rd of June 2007, Judge Spero denied bail to the photojournalist due to the denial of a recantation statement by the Mexican officials. Later on, the defense of the journalist, through a notarized document, proved that the recantation existed and this evidence was accepted by the San Francisco D.A.’s Office as genuine. Around that time, in México, the offended – Sergio Dorantes – and his defender insisted to the Human Rights Commission of México City (CDHDF) that there were irregularities in the integration of investigation COY-2T1/969/03-07 [original investigation].
In April 2007, the CDHDF issued Recommendation 7/2007, where it observed that: “the right to legal security and due process was violated in previous inquiry COY-2T1/969/03-07, by virtue of which the México City District Attorney made two consignments using the contradictory statements of witness Luís Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, without verifying irrefutably the veracity of these”.
The CDHDF recommended that the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office continue with the investigation of the facts denounced in investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12, and that it expand the investigation of the Public Servants who participated in the integration of investigation COY-2/969/03-07. A year after Recommendation 7/2007 was issued the PGJDF proceeded only against the eyewitness Sánchez Martínez. The judge from the Northern California Court District already had requested that the PGJDF let him know the advances in investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 and receiving no answer, on the 24th of August 2007, granted bail to the photojournalist who was jailed at the maximum security jail of North County in Oakland, California. This decision was ratified by Federal Judge Martin Jenkins, as: “there were serious irregularities and the fabrication of evidence committed by the Mexican authorities”.
On the 22nd of January, in the radio program Frente al País, Pablo Hiriart interviewed Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinoza – deputy DA at the PGJDF – who pointed out that the [second] declaration of the eyewitness was supported only by his saying. “If it is like that [supported only by his saying] – Dorantes points out – his first declaration, which the District Attorney’s Office insists is valid, was only his saying too, contrary to what the PGJDF guidelines establish, nobody corroborated his first testimony [August 2003]”. Deputy DA Mancera Espinosa also pointed out that the indictment of María del Rocío García was requested, but the judges determined that there was not enough evidence [against Rocío García]. For this reason, Dorantes explains that the testimony of Sánchez Martínez lacks value, though thanks to that testimony his arrest warrant was issued: “the PGJDF would not admit this fact for to do so would be to acknowledge that the eyewitness was indeed fabricated by María del Rocío García and Alfredo Briseño Martínez”.
According to the journalist, the District Attorney’s Office is protecting the woman DA agent and her half-brother. He states: “with the decision from the seventh chamber of the Superior Tribunal of Justice, the American judge’s request is fulfilled and places me closer to extradition”.
Scheduled to take place the 18th of April, the extraction hearing was postponed until the 27th of June when it might be decided if Dorantes is to be handed over to the Mexican authorities.
RECOMMENDATION AND CONCEALMENT
On the 12th of April 2007, the Human Rights Commission of México City issued Recommendation 8/2007 for the violation of legal security in favor of DA agent María del Rocío García. In her complaint, the official pointed out that investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 was not integrated at the Internal Affairs Department ofthe PGJDF, whereas in an analysis of penal cause 207/2006, the CDHDF pointed out in Recommendation 7/2007 that both investigations - COY-2T1/969/03-07 and FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 – had been lodged at Unit 3 of the Internal Affairs Department from the PGJDF.
The petitioner also pointed out that the investigation had not been captured in the System of Preliminary Investigations and: “that fact facilitates the manipulation of the investigation’s contents”. She alleged that 60 days went by since the initiation of the investigation before she was summoned to start her defense. She assured not knowing witness Sánchez Martínez, which “imprecise declaration – she said – left her in a defenseless state”, and to have been threatened by a member of the judicial police.
María del Rocío García stated that the investigation of the murder of Alejandra Dehesa started at the Agency of Coordination Territorial COY-2, whereas until August 2004 she was the Responsible of the Coordination Territorial COY-1; because of this, she denied having known of the integration of investigation COY-2T1/969/03-07. “The matters aired in COY-2 were completely unconnected to her” is stated in Recommendation 8/2007. She maintained that investigation COY-2T1/969/03-07 was in the hands of other office heads from the DA’s office under the supervision of a coordinator named Claudia Morales González.
However, according to a house search warrant issued by the corresponding penal judge dated the 28th of July 2003, and signed by DA agent Ricardo Cortés Bonilla, there is a request that the house search be conducted by staff from the agency that includes María del Rocío García. The request to the judge had the intention to search and confiscate objects, amongst those a computer, so that a forensic technician could determine the date, hour and addressee of the e-mail that Dorantes said he sent the day that the murder occurred. The memorandum, number 200-207-100/I-10302, gives an account of a report on the computer and is dated the 31st of July 2003, signed by forensic computer technician Verónica Rojas Hernández, which reads: “the inspection [of the computer] took place under the supervision of DA agent María del Rocío García and Hugo Aguilar Estrada, responsible of computer technology at Agency COY-2”.
Dorantes Zurita observes that: “María del Rocío García took part in the house search of my home the 29th of July 2003. In the case file there are pages where forensic technicians accredit that this woman DA agent had an active participation in investigation COY-2/969/03-07”.
Archives of power
Confidential archives….Another matter that, according to the investigations, is plagued with irregularities and fabrication of evidence is that of photographer Sergio Dorantes who is accused of murdering his ex-wife in Mexico City. Dorantes was freed on bail from the North County jail in Oakland, California and he is facing an extradition trial. Meanwhile, a woman named María del Rocío García who works for the México City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) and her half brother, appear to be responsible for bribing the alleged eyewitness that pointed out Sergio as the murderer. The evidence against Dorantes is weak, and it seems the real killer is still free.
Scotch on the rocks
Sergio Dorantes faces an extradition hearing in the United States at the end of this month. Dorantes is the internationally acclaimed news photographer who the Mexican City legal authorities say killed his ex- wife, Alejandra Dehesa, almost five years ago in the Newsweek office, of which she was the manager.
Quite why the Mexican authorities continue to seek the extradition is a mystery. There is no hard evidence, in terms of blood at the scene or fingerprints on the murder weapon, that could implicate Dorantes.The only evidence against the photographer came from a witness who suddenly recalled – a month after the event – that a flustered man answering to the description of Dorantes had brushed him aside as he raced away from the office.
But the Mexico City Human Rights Commission discovered that the “witness” had been paid 1,000 pesos by a detective to provide his confession. The detective in question, Rocío García, continues to hold on to her post.
In statements to the prosecutor’s office, García said she had nothing to do with the Dorantes inquiry because she was not assigned to the area where the crime took place. But another court document clearly states that she helped to inspect Dorantes’ computer.
Dorantes went on the lam as soon as he knew he was being investigated for the murder. He did so because he feared being locked up for years in jail without trial. Jails are always dangerous places in Mexico but would likely be more so for Dorantes, who had already been beaten once close to death in a Mexico City street by hitmen hired by drug gangsters that he had photographed.
He has also made clear that he would have no problem in returning to Mexico if he was sure of getting a fair trial. Unfortunately that’s the last thing you can be sure of in our system of “justice”.
TO BE BORN….TO DIE….
April 16, 2008. The true story of a person does not start at birth. To be born is a fortuitous, almost trivial fact in itself and it does not tell anything about what the future will bring. On the other hand, the decisions that we make and the acts that we take mean everything: they are our course and our fate. To cross a street, fall in love, or to make a simple journey might determine the course we follow, defining at the end what we will be in the future, whether it’ll be tomorrow or in fifty years time.
For example, if a man decides to migrate from his country, seeking to overcome the conditions that limit his life, then he will be writing his own story in a singular fashion, meanwhile also facing the rigors of fate.
The true author of this story is therefore a singular man. One day, he decided to change the course of his life and at a early age opted to become the craftsman of everything that his will allowed him to: he lived in Europe and the Far East, traveled across the world; with his camera took pictures of the rich and famous, yet his camera also captured the anonymous tragedy of the needy; he posed with Presidents and Secretaries of State, portrayed the riotous lifestyle of some Rock stars and the glamour of a few Hollywood actors.
There were even a few that attest that he confronted the boxer Mike Tyson with whom, after photographing him in compromising situations, he stood for a whole round, not screaming a single time: Please not my ears!
At the end, thanks to his tenacity, this man went on to become one of the most important press photographers that our castigated country has produced, demonstrating how true will might transform a human being, despite being born into poverty.
Success, however, is as fateful as birth itself; it weaves its net around us, and there are occasions in which one’s will is not enough to overcome the vicissitudes that it brings to us, then success might turn into a nightmare.
As a result of the murder of Alejandra Dehesa, known as the Newsweek case, which took place in July 2003, the man in this story, Sergio Dorantes, was wrapped in a tangle of facts that would make him lose everything. As a matter of fact, his tragedy started with a threatening phrase, shouted at him by one of the policemen investigating the case.
To Dorantes’ request to speak to his lawyer by virtue of his constitutional rights, the policeman replied to him: “Here, I am the Constitution!” From that moment Dorantes’ life would start to crumble, as soon he would know that he was accused of the murder of his ex wife. The following events only would be the culmination of what had happened: a knife in the neck of the victim, which did not have Dorantes’ fingerprints; a taxi driver in whose car blood traces were found, but that never was considered a suspect; an agent from the DA’s office that got an eyewitness who insisted that he saw Dorantes leaving the crime scene the night of the murder, yet the eyewitness gave his testimony one month after the murder and later on he recanted himself in a video that was leaked to television, and confessed that he had been paid a thousand pesos to incriminate Dorantes….a thousand pesos!
Until today, the PGJDF (DA’s office) has not been able to provide any evidence that ties Dorantes to the crime scene. As a fact, the strongest evidence against him is based on the testimony of that supposed eyewitness, whose recantation has not invalidated Dorantes’ prosecution, and worse yet, the PGJDF has not made any attempt to thoroughly investigate the murder.
Despite that on one occasion the former Chief District Attorney Bernardo Batíz admitted that in the investigation of the case there were numerous irregularities, the arraignment order against Dorantes still stands.
In August 2007, Dorantes was freed on bail from a jail in California, USA. Today he is awaiting extradition, afraid of hearing another threatening phrase….
There is only one way to be born, but a thousand ways to die. Alejandra Dehesa with a knife, Sergio Dorantes with a thousand pesos note. Definitely, life in itself is fateful.
Sergio Dorantes: From international photojournalist to victim of Mexican injustice.
In another country (perhaps more “advanced”) Sergio Dorantes would be someone renowned, a famous celebrity and admired by his countrymen and abroad.
From 1974 until 2003, Dorantes was one of the most hired Mexican photographers by international media like the English newspapers The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Economist. He also worked for North American publications like Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, and for the French and German magazines Paris-Match and Stern.
Despite his impressive professional résumé, Dorantes 61 is not recognized in his own country of Mexico, on the contrary: he was persecuted and accused as one of the worst criminals.
The charge: the murder of his ex-wife Alejandra Patricia Dehesa Pérez Reguera, who happened to be the administrator of the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek magazine in Mexico City. The woman’s body was found at her office, wounded with a knife on her neck.
In December 2003, the arraignment order against Dorantes was issued as probable responsible for the murder. According the District Attorney’s Office from Mexico City, an eyewitness named Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, stated that he saw Dorantes leaving in a rush from the crime scene after the murder was committed.
Yet in Dorantes saying, he did not have anything to do with the crime. However, knowing the nasty ways of “justice” in Mexico, he chose to flee to the United States in January 2004, where he applied for residence and political asylum.
In December 2005, the alleged eyewitness recanted his initial testimony. He confessed that an agent from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office, María del Rocío García, paid him a thousand pesos to declare and blame Dorantes for the murder so as “to be able to close the case.” The video showing the eyewitness Sánchez Martínez recanting himself was aired by the national TV network Televisa and is available on the internet.
A few months back, Dorantes wrote to me informing me of his case and requesting to make it public. “Being innocent I left the country to enable me to investigate the case and defend myself from this infamous accusation which has destroyed my life and my career” he wrote.
Remembering the day his ex-wife was found, Dorantes disclosed that he was interrogated for 9 hours at the police station, and that he was “constantly intimidated by a group of 6 forensic technicians, two detectives and the detective in charge, Alfredo Vélazquez, who intimidated and forced him to give samples of hair and nails”.
He was stripped from the waist down, photographed, and denied the right to have a lawyer present during the four hours that the interrogation lasted. “All of the time they kept telling me” “Say the truth. At the end we are going to catch you” Dorantes wrote.
As he stated, he has already proven his innocence, “unmasking the conspiracy to frame me, made by corrupt elements from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office, whom paid an “eyewitness” to declare and blame me for the crime. This testimony is the only evidence against me and for it the penal judge 24 issued the arraignment order to detain me” “There is no evidence against me. Nothing. No finger prints, blood, hair, DNA, only the “eyewitness” testimony”.
Dorantes has lived in the US for three years, until February 2007, when he was detained by USA marshals in San Francisco, upon an extradition request from the Mexican government. He was taken to a maximum security federal prison in California, there he spent over six months in detention until being released on bail.
According to Dorantes, American Judges Joseph Spero and Martin Jenkins coincided that in his case there were “serious irregularities” amongst them “fabrication of evidence” and his extradition hearing has been postponed until April, for Judge Spero has requested the Mexican government to provide convincing evidence of his responsibility.
Not only that: In April 2007, The Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF) served Recommendation No 7/2007 to the District Attorney’s Office, as the CDHDF found serious irregularities in the case and the violation of Dorantes’ Human Rights.
This case has not remained anonymous. At his internet website: www.sergiodorantes.com, Dorantes lists articles, interviews and news from media around the world which have reported on his case. From the most important Mexican newspapers and TV networks to foreign newspapers like The San Antonio Express News from Texas, The Financial Times from London, El País from Madrid and others.
Yet not even his fame and reputation or his ties with powerful international publications, prevented Dorantes from falling into the web of Mexican (in)justice, which ended up costing him his freedom and career.
By the way, what do you think happened to the agent María del Rocío García who paid for the eyewitness to declare lies and to allow her to “close” the case quickly? Was she punished, sent to trial or at least investigated? Not at all. She was “promoted” as a special advisor to the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office.
In spite of everything, Dorantes has been lucky. He had the resources and contacts to leave Mexico. He has managed to bring international attention to his tragedy, and by ringing a bell he has warned that Mexican justice might not be fair justice at all.
But, what about of the rest of the innocent people who have been unfairly accused, and who do not have either the resources or contacts that Dorantes has? How many people are serving sentences in the Mexican jails accused of crimes they did not commit, blamed by witnesses fabricated and paid?
If someone as well known as Dorantes can be falsely accused by the authorities, what can an ordinary person, such as you and I, who does not have access to international media expect?
How many similar cases as that of Dorantes, or even worse, happens everyday in Mexico? How many lives of good, honest people are destroyed without a thought for the apathy and corruption of dishonest negligent District Attorneys and judges as those that dealt with Dorantes’ case without anyone doing something about it? How many families have been destroyed this way?
The worst fact in this case is that it does not affect only a particular person as it can be Dorantes or someone else, which in itself it is a tragedy. The fact is that the professionalism of the Mexican justice system is made the laughing stock in the eyes of the world. The impression already exists that in Mexico, justice is administered at gun point. Unfortunately, this opinion is not far from reality.
Judge rules not to extradite Sergio Dorantes
The American justice ruled that until the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) presents enough evidence, photojournalist Sergio Dorantes won’t be extradited.
Judges coincide that in this case there are serious irregularities and the fabrication of evidence in the murder investigation of the administrator of Newsweek magazine in México. “This ruling and other legal precedents validate my claim of innocence”: Sergio Dorantes.
The Mexico City District Attorney’s Office, (PGJDF) was given 90 days by the judge at the northern California District to notify him whether charges will be filed in the investigation related to the fabrication of eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez in the homicide of Alejandra Dehesa, Newsweek magazine’s administrator in México. Should the request made by Judge Joseph Spero not be met, photojournalist Sergio Dorantes would not be extradited.
In a hearing that took place the 18th of August, Judge Spero repeated his request to the PGJDF to solve the investigation FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 joined to penal proceeding 207/2003 against Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, for his probable responsibility in the crime of perjury. The eyewitness stated to have seen Dorantes Zurita leave from the crime scene. According to Manuel García Garrido – Dorantes lawyer in Mexico - the eyewitness is the only “evidence” that ties the photojournalist to the crime scene.
In its Recommendation 7/2007 issued in April 2007, the Human Rights Commission of México City (CDHDF) corroborated that in the investigation 207/2006 Sánchez Martínez stated that he was bribed with $1,000 pesos by agent María del Rocío García from the México City District Attorney’s Office to declare in the murder investigation COY-2/969/03-07. The PGJDF denied that such a recantation existed, as can be seen in a document presented by the San Francisco prosecutor to the Court.
The CDHDF in its Recommendation determined that “the right of legal certainty and due process in the crime investigation were violated as the PGJDF issued an arraignment order using contradictory statements from the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez without fully corroborating the authenticity of the statements”.
Thus, the CDHDF recommended to the Chief District Attorney from México City to continue with the investigation that has indicted the public servants involved in the murder investigation. According to the CDHDF’s Recommendation, this investigation was frozen. Despite the fact that the CDHDF gave the México City District Attorney’s Office six months to conduct and end the investigation, to this date there are no results.
Since August 2007, the USA Court requested the PGJDF to let it know if the inquiry was closed or not. Five months later, the Court has not been given an answer. As the request was not answered, on July 24, 2007, the judge from the California’s North District granted bail to Dorantes Zurita who was detained at the maximum security jail of North County in Oakland, California.
This decision was appealed by the USA prosecutor. However, on August 22 Federal Judge Martin Jenkins endorsed the bail decision.
Both judges agreed that there were serious irregularities and fabrication of evidence by the authorities of the PJGDF.
In the opinion of Dennis Riordan – Dorantes’s defender in San Francisco, California – this is a unique and complex case as two investigations advance side-by-side: one on the murder of Alejandra Dehesa, the other on the fabrication of an eyewitness. In his opinion the probable responsibility of Dorantes has not been proven, which means that there is not enough evidence against him to suspect him of being guilty. It is a case where the responsibility hangs on the eyewitness testimony, who already admitted that it was false.
Before the 18th of January hearing, Riordan had guessed there would be a postponement on the decision as there was not a clear answer from the PGJDF, therefore the judge would wait until the investigation going on in Mexico City was resolved before deciding whether to extradite or not extradite.
“Dorantes’ extradition will depend on what happens in Mexico City. If the PGJDF acts upon the Recommendation made by the CDHDF and it produces a clear resolution on the investigation against the fabricators, then the judge will go ahead and make a decision” Riordan explained.
DORANTES FIGHTS FOR HIS INNOCENCE
In a letter addressed to the Contralinea newsroom, the photojournalist points out that there are precedents that confirm his innocence, such as the Recommendation by the CDHDF that ruled that during the murder investigation his right to the legal certainty and the due process were violated by the investigating authorities. Also, the affidavit signed by the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez at the authorities’ office stating that he was bribed by an agent from the PGJDF, and a public recantation by the eyewitness aired on national TV. The decision to free him on bail – a unique precedent in the USA – and the 18th of January decision not agreeing to extradite him as the judge considered that there were not enough elements to be extradited while the PGJDF does not implement the investigation against the people that fabricated the eyewitness.
The photojournalist felt relieved when he returned from the hearing the 18th of January. In a telephone interview he explained: no matter what happens, the judge’s decision is the third legal precedent in an American Court where they rule that there is not enough evidence against me. “In a certain way, these rulings validate my claim of innocence” he said.
Besides the observation made concerning the irregularities in the case, Federal Judge Martin Jenkins pointed out two elements related to the extradition process, the fact that the photojournalist has a pending political asylum request in the USA and the roots he has in the community where he lived since 2004.
Sergio Dorantes points out that if he is not extradited, he would continue living in that country and be a free citizen. Since the 25th of August he has lived under house arrest and he is allowed to leave only for special reasons like; attending to legal matters, Court hearings and visits to the doctor.
He does not work and spends his time seeking help from international organizations. Human Rights Watch, The Bianca Jagger Foundation for Human Rights, and Amnesty International chapters London and Mexico, follow closely the developments in his case. Also, since 2004 he has been dedicated to investigating the legal and forensic aspects involved in the case.
For the photojournalist and his family the accusation has been a wearisome experience, his family has been intimidated by the authorities a few times. He regrets that his career was destroyed and the accusation has exhausted his funds on his defense expenses, “all of this due to an infamous fabrication made by a group of corrupt members from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office”.
In case of being extradited, he would be sent to Mexico to face trial in jail as the arraignment order is still pending. The photojournalist is confident that he will defeat the charge as he has all the necessary elements to prove that he is the victim of a fabrication aimed at him.
“I was one more victim of the irregular malpractices that overwhelm the District Attorney’s Office. However I trust the high authorities of the District Attorney’s Office. I believe the whole of this problem is the result of the awful administration of justice in Mexico City. I fell on their corrupt ways and now I have to defend myself with the best of my abilities”.
By not being quiet and making noise, he says, is the best way to get justice. The photojournalist thinks that he has that responsibility, as there are many others in the same situation as him, but do not have the resources to defend themselves.
“I would like to ask straightforwardly to the District Attorney’s Office to reopen the case so that they find the murderer of my ex-wife. I am willing to be investigated again, as I do not have anything to hide, provided the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City supervises the procedures and that these are adhered to the law”.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY’ S OFFICE REPLIES
In a radio interview on Pablo Hiriart’s program Facing the Nation aired the 22nd of January, the deputy District Attorney from the PGJDF, Miguel Angel Mancera Espinoza, cited Sergio Dorantes’s case. The public servant stated that there is a “firm and well defined arraignment order concerning its contents”.
In the opinion of the assistant District Attorney there are 18 forensic tests. “it is not only one piece of evidence that supports the accusation – he points out – we have a few more and magistrates from the Federal Tribunal College so attested”. The assistant District Attorney denied that the accusation was based only on the testimony of one eyewitness.
Concerning eyewitness Sánchez Martínez, the assistant District Attorney indicated that the declaration was made outside the District Attorney’s Office official methods, which do not allow any alteration: “the testimony is only his. There is not a presentation order nor collaboration order that would have been the proper proceeding to summon him, further he made the accusation and then he disappeared”. Besides Mancera mentioned that the District Attorney’s Office requested the arraignment of the public servant Maria del Rocio Garcia [the person accused of fabricating the eyewitness], however, the judge determined that there was not enough evidence against her.
Miguel Mancera said that the PGJDF has never stated that the photojournalist is guilty of the crime there are only clues that point to him. He added that once in Mexico, Dorantes will have a trial where all his rights will be respected: “we are preparing the evidence and the documents for the hearing the next 18th of April, as the information in possession of USA Court is not so reliable”.
In the same program Dorantes replied that forensic tests made in the case were inefficient and the declarations against him contradict themselves. Further, he emphasized that without the eyewitness testimony the arraignment order would not have been issued: “the first time the judge denied issuing the arraignment order, which is stated in the pages of the criminal file, three months later, the judge 24 from the East Side prison was pressured to change his mind based only on the eyewitness testimony without any additional evidence”.
LETTER TO CONTRALINEA
“….It is surprising that despite that there is no evidence against me and it has been made public that the only evidence for which I was blamed was “fabricated”, the PGJDF insists in prosecuting me. I ask your support in complaining to the PGJDF for their perverse attitude to continue blaming me with impunity of a crime that I did not commit, for this infamous accusation they have destroyed my career as a photojournalist. Worst yet: the assassin of my ex-wife is roaming free”. Sergio Dorantes.
Mexico asked about frame-up charge
The following article is reproduced exactly as it first appeared. At the end it quotes circumstantial prosecution evidence that appears to incriminate him. Sergio disputes all these allegations, and if his case ever reaches court in Mexico his solicitor will present evidence that refutes these prosecution accusations, point by point. This evidence of Sergio's innocence cannot be presented on this website, because his solicitor advises that to do so might undermine his eventual defence.
Guadalajara, México, January 28, 2008.
Before a California court decides whether to extradite a former photojournalist to face a murder charge, Mexican prosecutors will have to explain allegations that police fabricated key testimony against him.
Sergio Dorantes, 61, is wanted in Mexico in the 2003 slaying of his estranged wife at the Mexico City offices of Newsweek.
Dorantes' lawyers and Mexico City prosecutors said a federal judge in San Francisco delayed the extradition hearing until April 18, when Mexico has to explain its criminal probe of allegations that police paid a witness $100 to say he saw Dorantes leave the scene of the crime at the time of the killing.
The witness was videotaped recanting before authorities in 2005, explaining the fabricated testimony and naming the investigator who allegedly masterminded it.
But the recantation was not legally registered by authorities, Miguel Angel Mancera, a top prosecutor in Mexico City, said by phone last week. Efforts to relocate the witness to verify his retraction and bring charges against the prosecutor failed due to lack of evidence, he said.
"This witness doesn't turn up anywhere — it's like he's gone up in smoke," Mancera said. "We've explained that we've looked for him."
New evidence — like a recantation — cannot be admitted until Dorantes is brought before the Mexican judge hearing his case, who could throw the case out before it heads to trial.
This is not good enough for the U.S. court hearing the extradition request, said Dennis Riordan, a California lawyer representing Dorantes.
"The judge said it matters to him" that Mexican authorities have not been able to clear up the allegations of the fabricated witness, he said.
The mysterious recantation and findings by Mexico City's human rights commission that police did not guarantee Dorantes' right to due process helped Dorantes get released from a California jail last year.
Arrested in California in early 2007, Dorantes was released last August.
The doubts over what really happened have a lot to do with how evidence in the case was handled.
Alejandra Dehesa was found stabbed to death in July 2003 at the Newsweek office where she worked. The scene was poorly handled by police and contaminated by both officers and news photographers.
Dorantes, who police said had a rocky relationship with Dehesa, almost immediately became a suspect.
Police say they disproved Dorantes' alibi — that he was at home sending e-mails at the time of the killing — and found a bloodstained glove in his apartment.
Police also found scratch marks apparently made by fingers on Dorantes' neck, but forensic tests were inconclusive.
At the time, Dorantes was at the height of his career, shooting photographs for a number of major U.S. newspapers and magazines.
Delay on extradition verdict against photographer
Judge Joseph Spero from San Francisco, California, USA, requested an additional period of 90 days before he decides on the extradition demand made by the Mexican government against Newsweek photojournalist Sergio Dorantes, who is accused of murdering his wife and who, until the time of the murder, was known internationally for photographing social causes.
The accused’s lawyer, Manuel García, stated that the American judge asked the Mexican government to present new evidence, as he cannot decree extradition due to the fact that there is an eyewitness recanted his initial evidence. Therefore, the Mexican authorities will have 90 days to fulfill the request.
The resolution, issued Friday the 18th of January, was received as an achievement by the defense for the photojournalist, to whom the death of his wife Alejandra Dehesa has been attributed. Dehesa, the administrator of the weekly magazine, was murdered by being stabbed in the neck at her office in Coyoacán at dawn on the 4th of July 2003. For this reason the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office issued an arraignment order against Dorantes.