Sergio Dorantes is innocent!

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On Sergio’s case

On Human Rights in Mexico

On Sergio’s case: 2005-6


Mexico City’s District Attorney Office (PGJDF) gets tangled in the Dorantes case

Sergio Dorantes - the journalist charged without any evidence for the murder of Alejandra Dehesa – denies that he has been detained in the USA, as the Mexico City’s District Attorney Office (PGJDF) has alleged in leaks to the media.

The photojournalist’s case is becoming complicated for the office headed by Bernardo Batiz (Mexico City’s D.A.). Another D.A. working on the case has requested arraignment orders for perjury to be issued against the first local D.A. involved in the case and against the “eyewitness” who claimed he “identified” Dorantes.

Sergio Alonso Dorantes Zurita denies that he is under detention by the Federal Police in Washington, USA, as various national newspapers claimed, citing as their source the PGJDF.

“No, I am not in detention, though I am under a lot of pressure”, Dorantes said in a telephone call from his refuge. For three years the photojournalist has eluded capture by Mexican police, who managed to obtain an arraignment order against him based only on the testimony of what is now known to be "fabricated eyewitness”.

Dorantes’ lawyer Manuel García says that the leak of information to the media is one more “cheap trick” from the PGJDF. Through this move the PGJDF is hoping that Dorantes’s lawyers and relatives will “try to contact him so that he can be arrested”.

The Press Office of Mexico’s General District Attorney (PGR, the authority responsible for requesting extradition from any country) revealed that had not yet received from the federal police in the USA official confirmation of his arrest, in response to a request by Interpol Mexico. They learned of the alleged detention of Dorantes through the media.

Sergio Dorantes is accused by the Mexico City’s D.A. of the murder of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa Perez Reguera on the 2nd of July 2003. She worked as the administrator of Newsweek magazine's Mexico office. However, the Mexico City’s District Attorney Office (PGJDF) does not have any evidence that could incriminate the photojournalist. Even the Mexico City’s D.A. admitted that: “it is a very strange case, as there is not enough evidence against Sergio Dorantes”.

According to the D.A.’s investigation, FCUAH-2/3755/05/12 and penal file 207/2003 the only incriminating evidence is the testimony of “eyewitness” Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez. One month after the murder he declared that he saw Dorantes rushing out of Alejandra Dehesa’s office on the day of the murder. Now Sanchez Martínez has confessed that detectives from the Mexico City’s D.A. office headed by Bernardo Batiz paid him a thousand pesos ($92/£48) to falsely accuse the journalist.

Regarding this subject Dorantes’s lawyer explains the lawsuit that he has presented to the Office of Public Servants from the D.A.’s Office on behalf of his client: “it has been assessed by the authorities, and their verdict confirms that the 'eyewitness' testimony was fabricated. They reached this conclusion because the 'eyewitness' admits that he was given a thousand pesos to incriminate Mr. Dorantes. He confirms that he actually witnessed nothing: he never saw Dorantes leaving Dehesa’s office”.

“This admission is very serious…” he continues “…because Dorantes’ freedom has been jeopardised by a false testimony. The D.A. from the Office of Public Servants has asked the judge who issued the arraignment order against the photojournalist to call for the detention of the ‘eyewitness’ and the local D.A. who paid the ‘eyewitness’. However, the request for their arraignment has not produced any results yet, because according to the judge: ‘some technical elements of judicial character are missing’. Right now the Mexico City’s D.A. and the judge are trying to lose the request and halt the investigation. They are stonewalling us. The judge says: ‘the investigation is with the D.A.’s Office’ while at the D.A.’s Office they say: ‘the judge has it’”.


CONTRALINEA: What were your reasons for not facing the accusation in the Mexican courts, and why did you decide to go abroad?

DORANTES: I am innocent. I do not have to face any trial at any court. The case against me is a fabrication. I am not willing to go to jail because of a false accusation, nor to accept the slanders of a group of corrupt members of the Mexico City’s D.A. Office. This is why I decided to defend my case from a country where the law is respected and the evidence is taken into account. In Mexico the D.A. constantly abuses the citizens. Instead of upholding the law and justice, it fabricates evidence to blame innocent people.

What evidence do you have to prove your innocence? The D.A.’s Office say that there is an “eyewitness statement” that incriminates you.

The Mexico City’s D.A. Office has no evidence against me. No fingerprints, hairs, DNA. Nothing! In any country where the rule of law is respected, my case would have been dismissed immediately for lack of evidence. The criminology report is signed by an unqualified specialist and by a photographer! What does a photographer knows about forensic science? In any murder without witnesses it is crucial to determine the time of death in order to establish how the investigation should proceed, to rule out those who are innocent, and to identify the possible culprit. The local D. A. deliberately did not investigate this important fact because the time of death would have established my innocence.

From the end of July 2003 the case file was withheld from my lawyer. I was not allowed to assist in the investigation, despite the fact that -- as the victim’s husband -- I was entitled to do so. I was not given the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in my favour. The “eyewitness” who accused me was not interrogated. The police simply accepted his statement without question. Nobody corroborated his testimony.

It is very easy to accuse someone, yet it is the job of the authorities to prove that the statement of a witness is true. Doubtlessly the local D.A. encouraged the “eyewitness”, and his testimony is unbelievable. According to the case file, on “his own will” he went to the local D.A. and gave his statement to the police 32 days after he claims he saw me leaving the Newsweek office. On that day and at that time, I was working at my home. There is evidence of this, and this alibi has been withheld by the D.A. in order to blame me.

What sort of relationship did you have with Alejandra Dehesa?

It was civil and cordial. When we separated in December 2002, we decided that it was the end. However we agreed to remain friends. Our relationship did not end because of problems between Alejandra and me. It finished because her teenage daughter caused unbearable friction between us. Alejandra visited me the week-ends. Our relationship was no longer romantic, but had become platonic. Alejandra called me two or three times daily and I called her back. Phone records confirm this. The police did not include them in their case file as the records would have proved that Alejandra and I were friends and had an amicable relationship.

Did you meet Alejandra the day she was murdered?

No, though she called me three times that day. She asked me if we could meet after she left work. We agreed to meet at my house after 7:00 p.m.

She called me at my house at 7:08 p.m. to make sure that I was there, as she did not like to wait for me in her car outside my house. I worked in downtown Mexico City and I had to drive across the city to get to my home in the south. Traffic congestion often made me late: that’s why she called me from her office. She never arrived. I went over this sequence of events with the D.A.. He and a forensic team corroborated it on the night of the 4 July 2003 when I was interrogated for nine hours at the police station.

I invited the D.A. and the Fiscal to check the “caller ID” register at the telephone exchange and verify that Alejandra had called me at that time. The D.A. did indeed checked this out. However, in December 2004 when I finally got hold of the case file, I found that the D.A. used that information against me, alleging that I had “called myself” from Alejandra’s office, something that the forensic reports failed to prove.

You say that the “eyewitness testimony” is a “fabrication”. Why do you think the authorities would manufacture evidence against you?

The reason was to solve the case quickly and to show how efficiently the [criminal justice] system works. This fabrication was the result of the pressure that Newsweek magazine put on the authorities to solve the case quickly. It is well know that the authorities in Mexico fear condemnation in foreign media. If I had been a foreigner working for Newsweek, I would not have been blamed. I went voluntarily to the D.A.’s office to give my statement and help in the investigation. But when I got there, the policeman in change – Alfredo Velázquez — screamed at me. With his pistol hanging from his belt, he used his considerable physical bulk as a weapon, to threaten and intimidate me.

Mexico City’s penal judge No 24 rejected the request for an arraignment order the 18 of September 2003, for the following reason: “his probable responsibility in the crime of homicide was not proven by the D.A. that exercised penal action against him”. The D.A.’s Office appealed the judge’s decision. Then on the 11th of December the same judge issued the arraignment order. Without any additional evidence!

Did you complain to any Human Rights organization that you were being unjustly persecuted by the PGJDF?

Through my lawyer I presented in 2003 a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF). The file number is CDHDF/122/04/COY/D1702.000. The investigation is still open and the Commission is waiting for the Mexico City D.A.’s office to answer questions concerning my case. In the official complaint I identified many irregularities in the case file, but the most important is the dubious and uncorroborated “eyewitness” testimony.

Corruption is rampant at all levels in the Mexican police. Respected lawyers, such as Barbara Zamora, Leonel Rivero, Manuel García and Alonso Aguilar Zinser all agree that the D.A.’s office acted with malice to blame me for the murder. Because of the false and slanderous accusations made against me, I don’t feel confident that I can easily prove my innocence in a Mexican court. However, but I can prove it to the Mexican people and to the world.

Why did you seek refuge in the USA?

In my situation, anyone would flee across Mexico’s borders, confident that they would be more likely to find justice abroad. It is unfortunately true that if you are falsely accused of a crime, going on the run is the only sensible option — unless you are a member of Mexico’s social elite. There is a real risk that you will be tortured to make you confess to a crime you have not committed. To protest to the authorities if you are sent to prison is to risk your life. The news about my detention is false. The PGJDF is trying to put pressure on me and to confuse public opinion.

All I am asking for is a serious analysis and accurate forensic reports, and that the authorities stop fabricating evidence against me. I want them to admit that in blaming me for a serious crime that I did not commit they made grave errors and relied on the evidence of corrupt officials. I want them to make a mea culpa, dismiss the case and publicly admit their error. This false accusation by Mexico City D.A.’s office has destroyed my life and ended my career in one of the most competitive professions as photojournalist for some of the world’s leading publications.


In a press interview on November 5th, Mexico City DA Bernardo Bátiz boasted that his administration had led to "good results" for the city, ironically adding that "I preferred to release suspects if we doubted their guilt, or lacked evidence against them...We never invented charges, and never in this administration did we frame the innocent."

Killer of Newsweek administrator is caught

The General District Attorney ought to request the preventive detention of Sergio Dorantes to be extradited as the presumed murdered of the Newsweek administrator.

Mexico City (October 12, 2006) By Antonio Baranda. Sergio Alonso Dorantes Zurita was detained in the United States of America as presumed responsible of the homicide of his wife Alejandra Patricia Dehesa Perez Reguera, administrator of Newsweek magazine in Mexico City.

Sources at the Mexico City’s District Attorney Office (PGJDF) confirmed that Dorantes, 50 years of age, was detained this week in Washington, where the Interpol National Central Office reported that his status was legal.

Since 2004 through the memorandum 206.210.474 the PGJDF requested the help of Interpol to locate Dehesa’s husband, as a judge in Mexico City had issued an arraignment order against him for homicide.

The PGJDF has 60 days to deliver to the Federal General District Attorney’s Office all the documents related to the case, including certified copies of the case file 214/03, so that the Federal Office can build the formal request of preventive detention with a view to international extradition.

The extradition of Dorantes Zurita to Mexico could take months, even years, as it depends on the legal resources that the defense submits, that is what sources of the PGJDF said.

These sources added that the suspicion on Dorantes Zuñiga’s (Zurita) involvement in the crime is because an eyewitness assured that on the day that the crime took place, the eyewitness saw him leaving Dehesa’s office with his clothing stained with blood and getting away in a red vehicle.

The 6 of May 2003, the body of Dehesa was found in the house used as an office, located at Colonia Santa Catarina, in Coyoacan borough.

The body, which was found in a bathroom, had seven wounds caused by a sharp object on the neck, face and body. Copyright © Grupo Reforma Servicio Informativo

Murderer of journalist falls: it was her husband.

… Authorities in the United States detained in Washington the presumed killer of Newsweek journalist Alejandra Patricia Dehesa, she was stabbed in July 2003 at the magazine’s office located in Colonia Santa Catarina, Coyoacan borough in Mexico City.
The man is Sergio Alonso Dorantes Zurita, a photojournalist who was the husband of the deceased. She was found with wounds of a sharp object inside a bathroom at the offices of that magazine at the capital of the country.
The detention of the indicted, to whom the Procuraduria del Distrito Federal (PGJDF), (Mexico City’s District Attorney’s Office) issued an arraignment order the 10 September 2004, was enacted by federal police in Washington and immediately he was incarcerated.
The PGJDF has 60 days to request to the United States authorities the arraignment order and the case file, in order to request his extradition.
Derechos Reservados © Grupo Editorial Milenio 2006

Like the article in Reforma, this one from Milenio treats Sergio as convicted before he has even stood trial. Both articles are based on briefings by the Mexico City D. A. Office. Their motives are obvious: having arrested the most likely suspect for murder, and then released him without charge, they rightly fear that they will be accused of corruption, or at best, incompetence. The timing of the announcement is quite deliberate: human rights organizations that have been investigating the murder have obtained evidence that fatally damages the police case, and exonerates Dorantes of the crime.

Sergio Dorantes: fugitive journalist awaits justice.

Major irregularities committed by the authorities cast doubt on this homicide investigation.

His lens has captured landscapes, stars, wars, embraces, art, and death, in a range that extends from the [Mexican] Tarahumara mountains to Indonesia. Photojournalist Sergio Dorantes was until January 2004 a well known professional who focused on most angles of social issues. Now he’s a fugitive from the Mexican Justice System, accused of murder on evidence that even the Mexico City Attorney General in charge of the case agrees is flimsy. The Attorney General agreed to review the case himself, something that so far has not happened.

Dorantes is threatened with a sentence of 50 years in prison for murder in the first degree of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa, who last worked as the administrator of Mexico City’s Bureau of Newsweek magazine. The PGJDF (Attorney General’s office) began investigating the case in the early morning hours of July 4th, 2003. However, only three hours after discovery of the body, the PGJDF attributed the crime to Dorantes.

The case has drawn the attention of Mexican and foreign journalists who have worked with Dorantes for many years. One of them, writer John Carlin (1956 London) of the BBC and the Independent, (a winner of the prestigious ‘Ortega and Gasset’ prize, awarded by Spanish Newspaper El País, for his report in 2000 on immigration and travel), published a compelling account of Dorantes’ case in the Spanish newspaper El Pais on December 4th, 2005.

The story is an investigation into the murder of Dehesa at the Mexico City bureau of Newsweek Magazine, and reveals the widespread incompetence and corruption of both judges and police in the land of the Aztecs. It is eloquently titled, “Guilty Without Evidence; a Mexican history,” and has now had worldwide exposure. But it’s only the most recent example of increasing injustice in the Mexican system.

In the investigation of Dehesa’s murder, four criminal lawyers have found inconsistencies, contradictions, fabrication of witness accounts, and insufficient evidence against Dorantes, including contamination and finally, destruction, of the entire crime scene.

One of the lawyers, the prominent Human Rights advocate Barbara Zamora, in her analysis of the photojournalist’s file, asserts that: “there is a clear series of omissions and errors by the local District Attorney’s office, which lead one to assume that there was manipulation in the course of the investigation and in the statements found in the file.”

Zamora emphatically states that taxi driver Oscar Sanchez, who visited Alejandra Dehesa the day of her death, was briefly detained and charged with probable culpability for the murder, but was mysteriously released by local District Attorney Ricardo Cortez Bonilla; since then, Oscar Sanchez seems to have vanished.

One of Oscar Sanchez’s sneakers showed traces of blood, though forensic tests determined that the shoe’s print did not match those found at the crime scene. “One must take note that the taxi driver’s wife declared that Sanchez had previously been a policeman in the neighbouring state of Mexico, a fact that the taxi driver did not mention in his statement,” observes Zamora in her analysis.

Zamora casts no blame, but does make clear that the local District Attorney failed to determine that Oscar Sanchez was a policeman and why he resigned from the force.

Zamora’s analysis of the case draws attention to an important omission from Dehesa’s autopsy report. The report fails to pinpoint the approximate time of death. Further, it does not speak of the time element at all. “It’s a critical fact,” she says, “because knowing the approximate time of death allows the authorities to pursue a line of investigation; without this crucial element, any hypotheses developed during the investigation would be inexact,” and would work to the detriment of the defendant.

The criminal report Zamora used in her forensic analysis states: “by the observed deterioration of the cadaver, together with the temperature at the scene of the crime, ... it can be established that the murder took place during a period beginning approximately 36 hours prior to our discovery of the body (4.00am on July 4, 2003).”

The notion of the crime having taken place somewhere in a rather extended period of time is vague and lacks the precision and accuracy that was established by the local District Attorney, who insisted that the murder took place “the 2nd of July 2003 between 18.07 and 19.00 hours approximately.” The District Attorney’s statement, according to Zamora was contrived in order to match the hours and fit comfortably with his hypothesis.

Finally, the case for Dorantes’ defense took a turn for the worse, when a month after the murder an alleged eyewitness for the prosecution spontaneously appeared at the local District Attorney’s office to give testimony. The witness, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, claimed that on the day of the homicide he collided with Dorantes as Dorantes hurried from the scene of the crime; that in the course of this incident they exchanged insults and “that Dorantes, who was leaving the house, insulted him in English.”

Sánchez Martínez’s statement, given on August 4, a month after the crime, “has little credibility, and it seems more an ad hoc declaration to support the conclusion made by the General District Attorney in his request for Dorantes’ arraignment order.” This concludes Zamora’s analysis of the case.

Leonel Rivero Rodriguez, another lawyer involved in the case, states in his analysis that, “the crime scene was altered, and was most likely manipulated in such manner that forensic traces might have disappeared, which in turn made it very difficult to identify the probable culprit.”

He also points out that: “there was grave deception in the plan and execution of the forensic tests. The criminal report is incomplete; the forensic genetic test on Oscar Sanchez was performed in a deficient manner.”

In addition, Rivero Rodriguez reports another contradiction. “The policemen who discovered the corpse agreed that when they went into the Newsweek offices they were constantly accompanied by Alejandra’s relatives. Family members, however, declared that only the policemen entered the offices, and that once they discovered the corpse, they came out and told the relatives that the body was inside the house.”

For Rivero Rodriguez the report in the file showing the psychological profile of Sergio Dorantes, falls far short of meeting rigorous academic and scientific standards (the psychologists never interviewed the accused); the report is based purely on the speculation of ‘“professionals,” who wrote it, using as a basis for their conclusions only the statements in the file.


Sergio Dorantes has told his defense attorney Manuel Garcia that he is willing to cooperate with the authorites, but not at the cost of losing his freedom.

In the past, Dorantes shared many an adrenalin rush on the front lines of breaking news stories, working with journalists like The New York Times’ Joseph Giovanni, a story on the Krakatoa volcano with National Public Radio’s Michael Sullivan and numerous other respected journalists from publications as diverse as The Sunday Times, Paris-Match, Stern and Newsweek.

The name Sergio Dorantes still appears in the official media directory of the Mexican government ( and in the electronic encyclopedia Encarta. His photojournalistic work earned Dorantes international acclaim for his unceasing effort in presenting a clear focus on the humanity of the subjects he covered. Much of what he showed was injustice. Ironically, today, his camera that photographed many social problems is witness of what it seems to be one more large injustice at his country.

Contralinea (counter line, journalism of investigation)

In his column in the weekly trade magazine Revista Mexicana de Comunicación, journalist Jorge Melendez Preciado wrote about the dubious conduct of the police in Sergio's case:

Apparently police evidence implicates Sergio Dorantes as the murderer of his ex-wife. He is a very well known photographer, even famous. As always in these cases, the investigations seem to be slanted to frame the photographer. At least that is the conclusion of three attorneys who have had independent access to the file. We all know, that often the capital’s police claim that people they have killed “commited suicide”. They free those that are guilty of many crimes and even make the innocent confess loud and clear. It is imperative to demand that this case be investigated clearly and not as it stands now: in a way that could not be more confused.

Spanish newspaper El País published an article on Sergio's case, and how it exposes the corruption of the Mexican justice system, on December 4th 2005. You can read the original article by clicking here.

This is an English translation:

Guilty without evidence:a Mexican story

A woman is stabbed in the offices of an important American magazine. The main suspect, the woman’s husband, flees from justice. The family of the victim and the policeman that conducted the investigation are sure he killed her. Four lawyers who have studied the case are convinced that everything has been a fabrication.

Mexico City; 3:15 a.m. on July 4th, 2003. Two patrol cars stopped in front of a house in the residential zone of Coyoacán, where Newsweek magazine has its Mexico office. The relatives of Alejandra Dehesa had called them. 47-year-old Dehesa, the office manager, disappeared a day and a half earlier. The police entered the house with five agents, followed by three relatives of Dehesa and the family lawyer. They found the body in the middle of a pool of blood, in a small bathroom. It lay in a fetal position around the toilet, with a 35 cm kitchen knife stuck in the neck.

Half of Mexico City saw the photographs the following day. As usually happens in these cases, the police made money from the crime. They alerted newspapers to the crime site, and in few minutes there were photographers in the house, inside the small bathroom, photographing the corpse from all angles. In Mexico it is common for the sensationalist press to publish corpses on the front page.

“How we regretted asking the police to come with us to the office of Newsweek”, says Ana Maria Dehesa, sister of the dead woman. She did not enter the house but waited outside with her driver. “By the time the forensic team arrived, already a dozen people had trampled the crime scene”. But neither Ana Dehesa nor her lawyer, interviewed in October, have any doubt about the identity of the assassin. They are sure it was Sergio Dorantes, the estranged husband of the victim. A free-lance photographer of indigenous origin, slight and lean, he had been working for many years for important magazines worldwide. Dorantes, now 59 years old, has been in hiding since January 2004, two weeks after an arraignment order against him was issued.

Dreadful investigation

The fugitive, his family, and his lawyer insist he is innocent with the same vehemence with which the family and the lawyer of the victim say that he is guilty. Three independent lawyers who have read the file agree in that the General District Attorney from Mexico City was mistaken when identifying Dorantes as the “presumed responsible”. But something on which all parties concerned agree is in the bad quality of the work carried out by the police, the courts, and the General District Attorney’s office.

While the politicians are warming themselves up to begin an electoral year that promises to be combative, the Achilles heel of the incipient Mexican democracy continues being the absence of the rule of law, and the incompetence and the corruption of the justice system. According to one recent survey made amongst 66,000 Mexicans by the Citizens Institute for the Study of Insecurity, Mexicans have little faith in justice and the effectiveness of the police, and nine out of ten crimes are not reported. Coparmex, the largest association of companies, published a report in October in which it said that the endemic anarchy was damaging the competitiveness of the country and costing it 15% of its GNP annually.

El País interviewed more than a dozen people involved in the case of Alejandra Dehesa, including the detective that conducted the investigation, and it has had access to the file of 2,500 pages. There are two things in which all agree: that the police did not find any evidence at the crime scene that tied Dorantes with the murder; and that Dorantes’ guilt or innocence hangs on the evidence of a single eyewitness.

For the Dehesa family there is an aggravating fact. They claim Dorantes was an aggressive man. Ana Maria states that her sister “was very scared” of him, although she also says that she does not understand why. “She was bigger than he was. I could not see why she had to be scared by such an insect.”

Sergio Dorantes was born in 1946 of poor parents in the town of San Martín Xochinahuac. He was an exceptional student and was able to enter one of the most important state schools in the capital. There he taught himself English and won a place in the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Disgusted by the racism that he found there, he left his studies and went to England when he was 24. In the 18 years that he lived there, he worked as waiter in a London hotel, then as a mechanic in a Formula 1 racing team, and finally, as photographer for the British press. He bought a house in London, married, divorced and then returned to Mexico, where, at the beginning of the eighties, he continued his successful career as a photographer. Amongst the publications that he worked for were The New York Times, El País, The Sunday Times, Paris Match, Stern and Newsweek. He owned eight properties in Mexico City and three cars.

In Mexico a woman of the social level of Alejandra Dehesa would not normally marry with a man of humble origins like Dorantes. Her family opposed the wedding. The couple were not together for very long. They wed on December 15th 2000, and Alejandra left him two years later. However, they continued seeing each other and speaking regularly by telephone. “I know it”, says Ana Maria. “For me, there is only an explanation. It was a sick relationship “.

Degree of friendship

Manuel García, Dorantes’ lawyer until his disappearance, says that the frequent contacts between husband and wife after their separation only indicated a degree of friendship. “For example”, says García, “she called him twice in the morning the day of the murder. The messages she had left on his answering machine only three days before, were affectionate. She called him “my darling” and “my life “.

Nevertheless, the policeman that conducted the investigation agrees with the Dehesa family that Dorantes had a threatening manner in relation to his wife. Commander Alfredo Velázquez, with 30 years experience in the judicial police, was in charge of the investigation. “It is clear that it was Dorantes who killed her”, he affirms. “It might be that the case has not been solved in theory, but in practical terms, yes. Dorantes’ guilt is clear. To me after having worked in more than 100 homicides, my experience tells me that it was him”.

Velázquez’s boss in the case, the public prosecutor of Coyoacán, also thought in the beginning that it was Dorantes. Soon he changed his opinion.

“His name was Robert Pérez Martínez,” said Manuel García. “I spoke with him at the beginning of October. He said to me that, at the beginning, he had thought that it was Sergio, but that he had reached the conclusion that there was no evidence against him. ‘I do not have any evidence against him’, that was what he said.” García was not the only person to whom Peréz Martínez expressed this opinion. Rick Sandoval, a American journalist with whom Dorantes was working at the time of the murder, met Peréz Martínez on three occasions. In his last encounter the public prosecutor told Sandoval exactly what he had told García. “That was no evidence that tied him to the murder”, Sandoval said.

Then, according to García’s account, something strange happened. Peréz Martínez was relieved of his post as public prosecutor in Coyoacán. “Almost immediately”, García says, “his substitute went to see the judge and requested an arraignment order to detain Sergio”. But the judge refused. El País has obtained a copy of the verdict. In it, the judge observed that the witnesses had said that the marriage of Dorantes was “unstable”, but that “on this basis, it is impossible to establish his guilt”; he added that there was no reason to doubt Dorantes’ account of his movements on the night of the murder, since his testimony had been corroborated; the fingerprints and footmarks found at the scene of the crime were not those of the photographer; and the evidence of the eyewitness “was not corroborated by any other evidence that could reinforce” the arguments against Dorantes.

The witness was called Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez. According to the file, he was a 22-year-old messenger from a poor family, who went to the police a month after the murder. He testified that on the day of the murder he was working in the area, around seven in the evening, when he saw a man leave the Newsweek building in a nervous state. The man crashed against him and left running. Sánchez Martínez remembered the incident with formidable and photographic clarity. A month later he remembered that the man slammed the door with force, he said to the man: “Watch out, asshole” and the man had responded “in another language that seemed English”; that he wore a dark suit, light shirt, and his jacket was folded on the left arm; that he was 1.65 meters in height; that he had a large nose and “medium size” lips, “ medium forehead” and “medium” eyes slightly extended”, and “acne scars in the lower part of his cheek”. The description corresponded to that of the physical appearance of Dorantes and his clothing.

In addition, Sánchez Martínez swore that he had gone to the police of his own free will after seeing a television report about the murder. For the judge, that “was not logical”. Mánuel García explains why: “For anyone who knows Mexico, the idea that in a case such as this, a person of humble origins is going to go voluntarily to the police is inconceivable. Inconceivable.”

Witnesses appear from nowhere

Barbara Zamora, a human rights lawyer who has studied the file, agrees. Zamora observes that, in the Mexican penal cases, it is not rare that witnesses appear from nowhere. “the police do their job badly at the beginning of the investigation, they lose or contaminate evidence, and then, to compensate their inefficiency, other evidence is invented.”

Commander Alfredo Velázquez denies that the eyewitness was invented. When it is suggested to him that such an eyewitness was hardly likely to present himself to the police on his own initiative, he disagrees. He contradicts the file, saying that it did not happen like that. “We found him”, Velázquez says. “During the fortnight after the murder, the police carried out street interviews with more than 200 people, and showed them photographs. That is how we found him.”

Another lawyer who has read the documents, says that even if Velázques’ version of the facts were true, he is guilty of a fault more serious than the loss of memory. “the greater problem”, says the lawyer, who has great prestige in Mexico and does not want to give his name, “is that they did not bother to properly investigate the eyewitness. The case rests entirely on his testimony. The freedom of a man. But they did not even bother to check with his employer if he really was there when he said that he was. They did not interrogate him. It is unacceptable that they did not investigate the main eyewitness with the same rigor, not even remotely, as they have shown in the persecution of Dorantes.”

The judge who had initially refused the arraignment order requested by the public prosecutor of Coyoacán must have thought the same. The lawyer of the Dehesa family concedes that he did not react calmly to the verdict. “I went to see the judge personally and mounted a santo pancho” (screamed at the judge), says Montero. “I was furious. Indignant”. Montero says that he presented an appeal in the name of the family. The case went to a superior court who ordered the judge who refused the arraignment order — a rather subtle way to issue an order, as Zamora explained — to “change your verdict”. And he changed it, despite the fact that in the two months in between, no new evidence had been discovered. Suddenly, according to the judge, the eyewitness testimony was “feasible” and, therefore, “despite the fact of previously having had a different judgment”, “the probable responsibility” of Dorantes, declared the judge, “is proven”.

In the opinion of Zamora, the evidence says more about the integrity of the judges in the case than it does about Dorantes. “When I state that many judges are corrupt, I do not necessarily mean it in the sense that they receive money, although they do. I am talking about how they do their work. The indifference in how they make decisions about other people’s suffering.” Zamora emphasizes that a report from The United Nations on Mexican judges, published in 2001, said that 70% of them were corrupt. “I would even say that was an understatement”, she says.

But what of Dorantes’ flight from justice? Wasn’t this implicit proof of his guilt? “ Not in Mexico”, Luis de la Barreda responds, after he was informed to which prison Dorantes was going to be locked up. It was the East Side jail. “ In that jail, the cells are jammed with inmates and there is a climate of terrible insecurity. Not a month goes by without several murders taking place. If one is imprisoned there, one lives with the permanent fear of not seeing dawn the following day. If I had been his lawyer or friend, I would have advised Dorantes to do what he did: to flee”

If the law had followed its normal course, Dorantes would have spent between a year and 18 months in the East Side jail, according to his lawyer, García. One of Dorantes’ fears was that he would be tortured to make him sign a confession. Torture is commonly used by the Mexican police and as a 2004 United Nations report revealed, it always goes unpunished. Dorantes already had a painful experience with torture. In 1989, after working on a news article on drug trafficking in Mexico for The New York Times, four policemen kidnapped him. They beat him so badly that he spent three weeks in a hospital. The attack was never investigated.

At the time the Partido Institutional Revolucionario (PRI) governed Mexico. Now, their power is reduced: the conservative of National Action Party governs the country at a national level; several parties govern in some of the states and Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), the leftist party, is in control of the capital, Mexico City. ”it has not changed much as far as the law is concerned”, says Luis de la Barreda, an outstanding professor of law and ex-president of the Commission of Human Rights of Mexico City. “the difference perhaps is that the PRD party is still less prepared than the PRI party to accept that the system has terrible defects”.

The most senior person responsible for the persecution of Sergio Dorantes is the General District Attorney for the Mexican capital, Bernardo Bátiz, from the PRD. On the 2nd of March 2004, two journalists who had collaborated closely with Dorantes went to see Bátiz to speak about their friend’s case. The journalists were called Miguel Badillo, a combative columnist, and his colleague Jose Reyes. Both agree that Bátiz said to them: “It is a very strange case, because there is not sufficient evidence against Sergio Dorantes”. Both journalists say that Bátiz assured them that he was going to review the case himself. By the way things look, he did not, because 18 months later when El País asked his press spokesman, Héctor Ramos, if there had been some progress, he just replied that the Dorantes “search” continues. Despite asking him repeatedly to confirm or to deny what Bátiz had told the journalists, Ramos did not respond. And Bátiz, Ramos said, could not grant an interview.

Two options for Dorantes

Today, Sergio Dorantes has only two options. Either he continues being a fugitive from justice for the rest of his life, or he returns home to confront the legal consequences. This could mean a mandatory imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 50 years if he is found guilty.

Curiously, Ana Maria Dehesa says that she is no longer so sure that she wants Dorantes to give himself up to the police or to be captured. Her lawyer, Montero, explains her ambivalence. “Unfortunately, in this country, judges can always be bought”, he says. “In the judicial environment that we have, it is even possible to even convince a judge that it is true that the eyewitness was paid to declare”.

One of the most respected lawyers of Mexico, Alonso Aguilar Zinser, regrets that the Dorantes case reveals the State of the Law that exists in the country. Zinser says that a great part of the fault falls on a system in which the main judicial appointments are made by the politicians. “That is to say, justice is politicized”, explains Zinser. “The people are demanding that crime be controlled. And the only answer that those in power have is to put to people in the jail, whether guilty or not.”

Commander Alfredo Velázquez is proud that Mexico is a country in which 95% of the penal cases presented by the General District Attorney end with a conviction. He does not doubt that a judge would condemn Dorantes. “In this sense, we are superior to the Americans”, he says in all seriousness. “When we meet with our colleagues from there, I say to them: ‘ Our methodology is better than yours’. For that reason we solve many more cases than you do”.

Perhaps also because the burden of proof is stricter in the case of American public prosecutors. Perhaps because the police must work harder to obtain a sentence. “The truth”, says Luis de la Barreda, who today leads the Citizen Institute of Studies on Insecurity, “is that we have one of the most ineffective police corps in the world.” The truth is that, in Mexico, justice is in the hands of perverse forces, forces that cause enormous damage and have very few scruples.” De la Barreda, emphasizes that to request an arraignment order against someone accused of murder, is already, by itself, a tremendous punishment and surely irrevocable, “because his family suspects him, his friends move away from him, public opinion turns against him; his life is practically destroyed.” Nevertheless, he says, the police and the public prosecutors take those decisions with a ruthless lightness. “There is a saying that affirms that the fair man shakes at the idea of committing an injustice. These are not fair men “.

On Human Rights in Mexico

Mexico's president must protect freedom of expression

This article has been edited. To see the original, click here

The recent decision by the San Antonio Express-News, The Chronicle's sister newspaper in San Antonio, to temporarily remove its border correspondent from its Laredo bureau was a judicious move. The paper reassigned reporter Mariano Castillo after a U.S. law enforcement source warned that an unspecified American journalist is on the hit list of a Mexican criminal group.

In the current context of rampant violence, the threat must be taken seriously.

Mexico's powerful drug cartels have repeatedly targeted Mexican journalists fueling a culture of self-censorship, particularly along the border. Despite a constitutional mandate to safeguard freedom of the press, Mexico's federal government has done little either to protect journalists or ensure the free circulation of information.

This threat shows that U.S. journalists are not immune to the dangers of reporting on drug trafficking, but Mexican journalists have borne the brunt of the violence. Local reporters who dig deep into crime stories are hunted down, violently attacked and threatened with death. The number of killings has spiraled as cartels battle it out over lucrative smuggling routes. Mexico now rivals Colombia as the most dangerous place to practice journalism in Latin America. .

According to CPJ research, 18 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, six of them in direct reprisal for their work. Meanwhile, five journalists have also been missing since 2005. Three of them were covering crime stories.

Though the drug wars are particularly acute along the U.S.-Mexico border, violence has spread to almost every Mexican state in the last year. Organized crime-related executions have increased 10 percent since President Felipe Calderón took office seven months ago, according to Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora. So far, this year has been devastating: more than 1,300 people have been killed in drug-related crimes.

One of the most damaging consequences of this climate of terror spread by the cartels is the fear that it creates among different sectors of Mexican society. Scores of reporters and numerous outlets are engaging in self-censorship for fear of retaliation.

In late May, the Hermosillo-based daily Cambio de Sonora suspended publication after two bomb attacks and repeated threats in a one month-period. In the central state of Michoacán, five dailies now abstain from any reporting on crime, the news magazine Proceso reported this week. In the lawless border city of Nuevo Laredo identifying drug traffickers by name is off-limits.

Sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, crime, corruption, human rights abuses and other problems that affect the daily lives of ordinary people are not being covered. The absence of a profound debate over issues of public interest is seriously affecting the health of Mexico's democracy.

Although the right to free expression is guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican Constitution, thousands of Mexican citizens -- including many journalists -- are not able to exercise this right for fear of physical retribution. This unprecedented wave of violence goes beyond the press: It is actually inhibiting the ability of Mexicans to communicate with each other.

The federal government recognized violence against the press as a national problem when it created a special prosecutor's office to investigate crimes against the media in early 2006. But there have been no successful prosecutions partially because murder and assault are state crimes and the federal government has no jurisdiction to intervene. Meanwhile, recent statements by the prosecutor's office downplaying the threat to press freedom in Mexico are deeply discouraging.

President Calderón can help fulfill his constitutional responsibility by proposing legislation making it a federal crime to conspire to deprive Mexicans of their right to freedom of expression. Such legislation would give the federal government the legal tools it needs to protect the work of the press.

While temporarily reassigning Mariano Castillo was a prudent move, it was a sad indictment of the state of the press freedom in Mexico. Unfortunately, threatened Mexican journalists don't always have the option of leaving the country.

Joel Simon is the Committee to Protect Journalists executive director. Carlos Lauría is CPJ's Americas senior program coordinator.

Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle


The respected campaigning organisation Human Rights Watch has produced a detailed analysis of Mexico's transition to democracy from a human rights perspective entitled Lost in Transition: Bold Ambitions, Limited Results for Human Rights Under Fox. Chapter V, Law Enforcement: Ongoing Abuses that Undermine Public Security covers the use of torture by law enforcement agencies to obtain confessions from criminal suspects. You can read it by clicking here. (Opens in a new window.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs monitors political, economic and diplomatic issues affecting the Western Hemisphere. In May 2006 they produced a report entitled The Wretched Plight of Mexico's Crippled Prison System. Describing the prisons as "warehouses for the marginalised", COHA reveals that 42% of Mexico's 200,000 inmates are held under pretrial detention, "a legal limbo which can last for years." You can read the report by clicking here. (Opens in a new window. Not available in Spanish.)