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Unequal in the eyes of the law
Sergio Dorantes is a rare example of a disadvantaged Mexican who made it to the top. Born into a poor indian family, Dorantes -- now 60 years old -- became Mexico's most successful news photographer. His work regularly appeared in such publications as Time, Newsweek and the New York Times. Some of the pictures that he took of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake achieved iconic status.
So Dorantes is a symbol of the opportunities that exist in Mexico, even for someone with the odds stacked against him. Now, however, he has become a symbol of a very different sort -- a symbol of our disfunctional justice system.
For three years, Dorantes has been fighting accusations that he killed his estranged wife, Alejandra Dehesa, who was found knifed to death in the Mexico City office of Newsweek magazine. Dehesa was the Newsweek secretary.
Only one piece of solid evidence was ever found against Dorantes, and the Mexico City Human Rights Commission found that it was faked. A detective who “needed a witness” to pin charges on Dorantes, paid a young man 1,000 pesos to testify that he saw the photographer fleeing the Newsweek office on the day of the murder.
The “witness” has since recanted but the detective who bribed him remains in her post and Dorantes faces an extradition hearing in the US next month. The nest egg he built up over the years as a successful photographer has all but vanished in lawyers’ fees.
Though he has always protested his innocence, Dorantes went on the lam when he was first accused of killing Dehesa. In messages sent from his hideout, he explained that he was prepared to face justice, but only if it was fair.
In view of the appearance of the fabricated witness, his fears were well founded. And, if he had surrendered to the authorities, he could have expected to face years in jail before even being brought to trial. A majority of the inmates in Mexican jails have never been tried for their alleged crimes.
Once in jail, too, Dorantes would have been a prime target of the gangs of drug runners and extortionists who prey on the better-off inmates. “In jail, my life would have been at risk,” Dorantes said in one email.
At the request of Mexican prosecutors, Dorantes was arrested in the US earlier this year. Held at first in a US federal prison, he was subsequently bailed.
Dorantes is right to hold deep reservations about Mexican justice. The system operates, in effect, behind closed doors. Explanations of proceedings are couched in impenetrable language. Justice is never seen to be done.
Nor does any Mexican harbor the illusion that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Poor people accused of crimes -- lacking the resources to pay bail bonds or decent lawyers -- spend years in jail without being tried. Nor is there any compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
By contrast, the wealthy -- and the politically well connected in particular -- have it all too easy. Major fraudsters have been returned to Mexico amid much publicity, but never see jail; instead, they rub shoulders with the elite at top social events in the capital. Union bosses have been accused of embezzling millions of dollars for illegal political funding yet their power and their privileges remain untouched. Which is why it is important for Congress to reform the justice system. Yet there are major defects in the legislation being proposed.
Trials are to be made public. That is a positive step, though only a small one. There will be no juries, so the danger is that the verdicts will emerge from a debate between the rival lawyers and the judge. A debate whose meaning will be obscured to ordinary members of the public by the jargon used and the legal principles invoked.
Jury trials are far from perfect. But because lawyers have to address the general public -- represented by the jurors -- they tend to make sure that as many people as possible understand what is going on. Justice, in other words, has a better chance of being seen to be done. Jurists and politicians have ruled juries out of the reform. Mexico, they argue, is not “ready” for trial by jury; people lack the “culture” to form effective juries.
This is the sort of reasoning that regards ordinary citizens are retarded children, just as the colonial powers looked on the peoples they ruled for much of last century. Opposition to trial by jury -- like refusing independence to nations -- is profoundly anti-democratic. In Mexico it reflects the uncomfortable fact that social divisions run much deeper than national unity.
For much of the Mexican upper and middle classes, it remains unthinkable that an indian peasant farmer from Chiapas or a single mother from the slums of Ecatepec should be able to decide the judicial fate of a “fine” person accused of crime. But if it really is unthinkable, claims that the nation is democratic are reduced to a sham.
Another feature of the proposed legislation is that it would allow police to search premises without warrant -- a vital element, we are told, of the fight against serious crime. But there are many other measures, such as the establishment of a reliable national register of vehicles, that would do more to fight serious crime without trampling on people’s rights.
Police, and their corruption, are part of the problem in fighting crime in Mexico. Until people can feel confident that the police themselves are not criminals, efforts to give them more powers should be nipped in the bud.
Judicial reform and murder in Coyoacan
When an arraignment order was issued against Mexican photojournalist Sergio Dorantes Zurita, accused of murdering his wife by cutting her throat with a kitchen knife, he fled the country.
On the 11th of December 2003 when the order to detain him for his supposed responsibility in the murder of his wife Alejandra Dehesa Reguera administrator of the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek Magazine was known, Dorantes with a long history of photographing for international media like: The New York Times, Paris-Match, Stern and El País escaped to the USA.
An eyewitness recognized him as the man that nervously and in a rush left the crime scene; that testimony changed his life.
Dorantes assures that he escaped as he did not kill his wife.
Later on – as we reported in this column a few months ago - the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez who claimed he had“ fully recognized” Dorantes Zurita declared that he never was at the crime scene and he had never seen the photographer whom he incriminated.
As the eyewitness later confessed, he accused Dorantes per the instructions of an agent from the District Attorney’s Office named María del Rocío García who happens to be a distant relative of his, who paid him $1,000 pesos to blame Dorantes and thus close the case.
Dorantes was detained and jailed in San Francisco, California, where he faces extradition proceedings.
The woman agent who paid the eyewitness to fabricate the testimony and close the case, now works as an advisor to a deputy from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office.
On Tuesday the 28th of August, Silvia Dorantes, the photographer’s sister sent me an e-mail with important news: Sergio Dorantes had been freed on bail the 24th of August.
A few days later I called Dorantes’ lawyer in México as in the USA it is not usual that a prisoner charged with murder is allowed to face extradition trial in freedom.
The lawyer, Manuel García, explained that effectively, bail is not granted when the charge is grave. It is only granted when there are really exceptional conditions.
And in this case, such conditions existed.
I asked the lawyer which were these exceptional conditions?
He pointed out that the evidence to support the extradition request was shameful.
When American Judge Joseph Spero noticed in the Dorantes’ case file that he was accused of murder due to a single testimony and that such testimony had been purchased for $100 dollars by a District Attorney’s agent involved in the case, the judge looked at us as if saying “you are kidding me”
The Mexican government accuses Dorantes of homicide, and at the same time it accuses the eyewitness [that incriminated Dorantes] of perjury for being paid by a District Attorney’s agent working on the case.
Of course Judge Spero had enough reasons to be shocked by the spectacle staged at his court by Mexican justice.
The lawyer [Manuel García] is optimistic as he states that the authorities from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) want to investigate the irregularities and it seems they are not deliberately working against Sergio.
A few days ago, the 26th of September, I got an e-mail from Sergio Dorantes, where he wrote: “Last week I got from the USA immigration authorities a card that allows me to work here legally and also a social security card. The hearings with a view to grant me permanent residence continue. In a few months the extradition hearing will take place, as I informed you – because the PGJDF refuses to recognize my innocence – my lawyers will try to avoid extradition.
If Sergio Dorantes had stayed to face justice in Mexico, as in theory any innocent person should do, he would have put the noose around his neck.
By now, he would have been sentenced to 50 years for homicide, and to substantiate the charge, the authorities bought for $1,000 pesos the false testimony of a young messenger 22 years of age.
Regardless, this eyewitness, hired by an agent from the District Attorney’s Office, changed Dorantes’ life forever.
“Guilty without evidence, a Mexican story” about the Dorantes’ case was published a few months back by the Spanish newspaper El País and written by one of the most important European journalists John Carlin.
It is shameful [the Dorantes’ case]. And what comes next, what is awaiting ahead for us? [concerning Mexican justice].
Indeed, with the pending judicial reform due to be discussed by congress this year, there is a risk that they approve actions as the one taken by the District Attorney’s Office in the Dorantes’ case ; buying an eyewitness to incriminate him, and also to allow the DA agents to search our homes without a warrant from a judge.
Once the District Attorney’s agents are inside our homes, how many cadavers will they bury in our gardens? [the journalist refers to a notorious case in Mexico, where the DA agents planted a body in a garden to blame the indicted person]
Sergio Dorantes: “I did not kill her, I am innocent”
The photojournalist was accused – in a judicial process which was at the very least irregular – of killing his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa. They got married in the year 2000. Both worked for the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek magazine. From jail in the USA, Dorantes gives an interview concerning the anomalies in an investigation that started badly and it has not ended yet.
On July 2, 2003, Alejandra Dehesa was stabbed to death at the Mexico Bureau of Newsweek Magazine, where she worked as an administrator. From that moment, the life of photojournalist Sergio Dorantes Zurita (57) changed forever. His ex-wife had been murdered and after a short time, he would appear as the main suspect. It was the beginning of the end for Dorantes, often called Big Photos.
An eyewitness, whose testimony turned out to be a fabrication, was the main evidence to blame Dorantes for the crime. Pressure from Alejandra’s family members -- who had been opposed to their marriage -- added weight to the testimony of the “eyewitness”. Overwhelmed and suspecting that the Public Prosecutor (MP) was not acting in good faith, Dorantes decided to seek shelter in the U.S.A. On the 20th of February 2007, he was arrested there and taken first to the Santa Rita jail, then to the North County jail in Oakland. At the time of going to press, the photojournalist’s lawyer, Manuel García Garrido, let us know that Dorantes had been granted his freedom on bail by the North American judicial system.
Sergio Dorantes is a Mexican Indian: that is how he likes to introduce himself. When he was 14 years old he migrated from the town where he was born, San Martín Xochinauac, to México City. Ten years later, he went to live in London, U.K. In the British capital he worked as a hotel assistant, motor-racing mechanic, and as a press photographer. After 18 years in Europe, he returned to México where he continued his career as a photojournalist working for Newsweek, The New York Times, The London Sunday Times, Paris-Match and Stern magazine.
Alejandra Dehesa was 47 years old and had a daughter, Christian Payro Dehesa, aged 12. Alejandra worked as the administrator of the México Bureau of Newsweek magazine. Dorantes and Dehesa got married the 15th of December 2000 and they separated two years later, yet they regularly continued meeting and calling each other by phone. On Wednesday the 2nd of July, 2003, Alejandra did not return to her apartment on Insurgentes Avenue and her family started to worry.
Analia Lorenzo How was your relationship with Alejandra? Where did you meet?
Sergio Dorantes We met at the Newsweek Bureau, where Alejandra worked as a secretary. Our relationship was very good, that is why we married. We were together only for two years though. This was due to the problems that her daughter brought to the relationship. In 2000, she was an adolescent of 12 and she always opposed our marriage. Alejandra explained to me – at the time of the separation – that her daughter came first and I understood that. Our relationship after we separated was good, friendly, and mutually supportive; she called me daily and she usually visited me at my house on the weekends. We were friends.
AL Have you had any communication with Alejandra’s family?
SD No, there has not been any communication since the beginning of the case. As a matter of fact, there never was: the family was against our relationship. (Manuel García, Dorantes’ lawyer, says that the frequent contacts between husband and wife after the separation showed a friendly relationship. “She called him twice in the morning the day of the murder. The messages that she left only three days before, in the answering machine were affectionate”, García says.)
Alejandra’s body was found in the bathroom of the Newsweek Bureau. Her neck had been slashed with a knife and apparently there were no signs of robbery. Speculation started to appear around this time in the newspapers. Columnists pointed out that the whole archive of journalist Olga Wornat’s book “La Jefa” about [Mexico’s first lady] Marta Sahagún was stored in the Newsweek offices. However, the Chief District Attorney at the time, Bernardo Bátiz, stated that there was no evidence that the archive was missing. Somehow the murder of the administrator was tied to the controversial book, as Alejandra had taken part in the research for that book.
The main hypotheses then were narrowed to: a crime of passion; revenge; a debt; and problems at work. A thorough investigation in 2005, by Spanish newspaper El País quoted an important statement by Alejandra’s sister, Ana: “How much we regret asking those policemen to come with us to the Newsweek offices.” Anna, who claims that she did not enter the office, but waited outside with her driver, remembers today that “…by the time the forensic team arrived, a dozen people had trampled on the crime scene”. Irregularities started to appear in the case of the ex-administrator from Newsweek. For his part, Dorantes complains that “[people trampling the crime scene] is something that should not have happened. Obviously, there was corruption involved and for those irregularities my life has been destroyed. All Mexicans ought to demand vigorously that the judicial authorities be supervised by independent bodies to avoid situations like this”.
Sometime after the murder, an eyewitness appeared. Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, according to the criminal file, was a messenger, 22 years old, from a working class family. He voluntarily went to the public prosecutor 32 days after the murder. He declared that he was near the crime scene around seven o‘clock the day the homicide took place when he saw a man nervously leaving the Newsweek Office. His statement described a person whose appearance was similar to Dorantes.
AL Has it been proven that the eyewitness was a fabrication?
SD In a video shown on television, the eyewitness declared he was paid by public prosecutor María del Rocío García. She and her half brother, Alfredo Briceño, hired the eyewitness with the knowledge of the Coyoacán precinct Chief prosecutor Roberto Pérez Martínez. The motive of the fabrication is unknown to me: I trust that the Mexican justice system investigates who gave the order to pay the eyewitness and why.
According to Recommendation No 7/2007 issued by the Human Rights Commission of México City against the México City District Attorney’s Office, Dorantes is correct: “On the 26th of December 2005, Mr Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez made his statement to the public prosecutor confirming that that public prosecutor María del Rocío García, who was at the time responsible for the Coyoacán precinct, paid him a thousand pesos to make such a statement [incriminating Dorantes]. He was hired via cellular phone by Alfredo Briceño, half brother of public prosecutor Rocío García”.
It was this “eyewitness” testimony that gave Dorantes no alternative but to leave the country and seek shelter in the USA. He stayed there as a fugitive until the 20th of February 2007, when he was detained to be extradited to México.
AL How can a person accused for a crime committed in México City be detained in a prison in the USA?
SD To avoid being detained for a crime that I did not commit, I went to the USA to conduct my defense from there. The México City District Attorney’s Office requested my extradition to the USA Department of State three years after I left the country. The evidence against me? The testimony of an eyewitness that the public prosecutor working on the case had already proven to be fabricated. There is no more evidence, only the public prosecutor’s hypotheses.
AL Have you received any help from the Mexican government?
SD I have not received any help from the Mexican government, only indifference, and now persecution. My extradition is possible, that is why I was detained, yet I am trying to avoid it so that I can continue defending myself in freedom.
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE CASE
In August this year, Manuel García, Dorantes’ lawyer, informed us that the American Justice System agreed to grant the photojournalist bail. The American Justice System has indicted Dorantes to appear in an extradition hearing. They cannot determine whether Dorantes is innocent or guilty: “Freedom on bail was obtained in this extradition case, due to the fact that serious irregularities in the case against Dorantes were found and presented to the US judge” states García. He points out: “It is exceptional for bail to be granted in a homicide cases, as this is a grave charge. Yet, in this case the anomalies are so clear that the judge agreed to bail as there are “special circumstances”, foremost being that the accusation is mainly based on the testimony of an eyewitness who admitted that he lied in his original testimony”.
The extradition order still stands, yet in the meantime the judge agreed that he would grant bail to Dorantes. Meanwhile, the photojournalist feels that at 57 years of age, his career was destroyed, his life and that of his family were ruined and finally the legal costs of his defense have left him bankrupt. But he says he will fight to the end until his innocence is recognized.
Ex-news photographer gets bail in wife's stabbing death
MONTERREY, Mexico — A former news photographer accused of murder in the 2003 slaying of his wife in Mexico City has been released from a California jail on a $2.5 million bond.
Sergio Dorantes, 61, is under house arrest in Sebastopol, Calif., where a court will hear Mexico's request that Dorantes be extradited to Mexico City to face charges in the death of Alejandra Dehesa.
He must wear an electronic monitoring device as part of the release agreement.
Dorantes was arrested in February at his residence 70 miles north of San Francisco and spent more than six months in jail in Oakland.
"It's very relieving to be outside," Dorantes said by phone Tuesday, adding that he lost weight and was suffering from ear, eye and throat infections in Alameda County Jail, which he called "an awful place."
Dehesa was found stabbed to death in the Mexico City offices of Newsweek, where she was an assistant, in July 2003. Dorantes soon became the primary suspect and fled Mexico after exhausting legal channels to avoid arrest.
But in 2005 a primary witness against Dorantes said police bribed him $100 to place Dorantes at the scene near the time of the killing.
The comment unleashed a series of recommendations by Mexico City's human rights office this year that questioned the professionalism of the capital's police force.
A message left at the prosecutor's office was not returned Tuesday, but Mexico City officials have said they would not drop the case against Dorantes.
In an interview in July, prosecutor Miguel Ángel Mancera said a judge could throw out charges if Dorantes presented himself to the court but said prosecutors stood by their investigation in spite of having no hard evidence that Dorantes was the killer.
The case was built largely on the retracted witness statement and circumstantial evidence.
Dorantes' attorney could not be reached. Dorantes said the extradition hearing would begin Friday.
At the time of Dehesa's death, Dorantes was at the height of his career and freelancing for many of the United States' top print media publications. While in hiding in California, he said, he did not work and survived on a career's worth of savings.
"I will continue fighting extradition vigorously because I am completely innocent," he said. "What they've done to me is outrageous. They destroyed my life, my career."
Sergio Dorantes is freed on bail
A northern California district judge determined that there were irregularities in photojournalist Sergio Dorantes’ case, and thus agreed to free him on bail; now he will be freed from the maximum security prison of Santa Rita.
Photojournalist Sergio Dorantes Zurita – detained since the 20th of February as suspect in the murder of his ex-wife and former Newsweek Mexico bureau administrator, Alejandra Dehesa – will be freed, thanks to Judge Joseph Spero' 24th July decision to grant him bail.
The decision, noted as without precedent by attorney Manuel Garcia Garrido, will allow the journalist to continue his extradition trial outside Santa Rita maximum security prison in California. “Finally, an authority admits that we are facing an irregular case. For the magistrate, the anomalies in the accusation against Dorantes were evident” pointed out Dorantes’ defender.
In a previous hearing, on the 23rd of June, Judge Spero denied bail to the journalist after an objection from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF). This institution assured the U.S.A. Department of State that the fabricated “eyewitness”, Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez had never recanted of his original testimony, which blamed Dorantes Zurita for the homicide of Alejandra Dehesa. However, the photojournalist’s attorney proved that there was a written recantation which was then notarized, evidence that the San Francisco prosecutor accepted as genuine. The Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF) established that in the indictment testimony the 29th of August 2006, Sanchez Martinez confirmed that he was paid to lie about Sergio Dorantes' guilt.
The Northern California District judge decided to postpone his verdict until the 24th of July. He gave the PGJDF one month to complete the ongoing investigation FCUAH-2/3755/05/12 (filed under the number 207/2003), into Sanchez Martinez's perjury. . According to Garcia Garrido, the institution could not prove that there was sufficient evidence to establish that Sanchez Martinez had told the truth. The investigation continues.
Dorantes’ attorney Garcia Garrido explained that “[The granting of bail] is a great victory, because Joseph Spero is a tough judge and had repeatedly denied bail during the trial. For the judge the irregularities [in the case] were obvious. His decision sets a legal precedent in the United States to try, as the judge is accepting anomalies committed in the due process of Sergio’s extradition.”
After filing a complaint last May to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) against the Mexican state for lying to the USA authorities in the extradition trial, Dorantes’ attorney is confident that Judge Spero’s decision will carry weight with the International Organization so that it rules in favor of the photojournalist.
Garcia Garrido points out that this case is unique for bail is seldom granted in murder cases. Under that premise, he explained that once the list of assets is presented to the judge by the journalist, this will decide the amount for bail and the conditions attached to it. The amount proposed by Dorantes’ attorney reached $700,000. Concerning the legal situation of the journalist, Garcia Garrido attested that his client will be entitled to remain in the USA and the Mexican government won’t be able to ask for his detention again. For this reason, Dorantes will not be in jail when he faces his extradition trial. The lawyer emphasized that bail will provide the photojournalist with the protection and security of US law, and will avoid further arbitrary meddling by the PGJDF.
Since the 25th of May 2006 (as noted in Recommendation 7/2007 from the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City) the accused and his lawyer vehemently insisted that there were irregularities while the investigation COY-2TI/969/03-07 was conducted, amongst those, the fabricated evidence of “eyewitness” Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez.
The CDHDF stated that “the photojournalist’s attorney demanded that the Complaint lodged here should be reopened. He asked for a clean, honest investigation, pursuing only lawful motives, emphasizing the particular interest of Sergio Dorantes so that the murderer of Alejandra Dehesa could be found and the reasons for the crime be exposed.”
Amongst the various anomalies that the First Visitor of the CDHDF found was that in 2004, the photojournalist was illegally interrogated by the judicial police from Mexico City P.D. Aditionally, he was denied his right to assist in the murder investigation. His lawyer was denied access to the investigation and to the reports concerning the public prosecutor’s case. Also, once the investigation was over the Public Prosecutor’s Office for the Homicide Investigations never notified the lawyer nor Dorantes of the indictment.
From February 2005, criminal lawyers warned that Public Prosecutor Ricardo Cortes Bonilla had made errors and omissions. Well-known attorney Barbara Zamora pointed out that the Public Prosecutor did not follow up the testimony of taxi driver Oscar Sanchez, who was detained as probable responsible of the murder only to be freed on the orders of Cortes Bonilla. Zamora also noticed that the autopsy report of Alejandra Dehesa did not establish the time of death. This omission allowed the Public Prosecutor to speculate on the time of death, and thus make the facts of the case more closely fit his hypothesis [that Dorantes was the killer.] Besides, the crime scene was manipulated and the various forensic and genetic tests inexact and deficient.
Another criminal attorney, Leonel Rivero Rodriguez, stated that the psychological profile of Dorantes in the file lacked scientific and academic value, as Dorantes was never interviewed, and the report was based on pure speculation.
Added to the irregularities is the fabricated testimony of Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez. This is the only evidence in the file that places Dorantes at the crime scene. The Public Prosecutor indicted “eyewitness” for the crimes of lying to the authorities and obstruction of justice. It was these charges that brought about investigation 207/2006.
The 14th of November 2006, Garcia Garrido filed a complaint to the CDHDF. There he pointed out, “numerous times I have tried to have access to the investigations 2/4/2003 and 207/2006, which are lodged at the 24th Court of Penal Law in Mexico City. This has not been possible. Without any legal justification, the Court said that we are not an interested party in the investigation’s details.” For all of these, the lawyer asked the CDHDF to “investigate the irregularities in both files, to find out the violations to the human rights of my client.”
Finding that there had been irregularities, the CDHDF concluded that “the rights of the photojournalist concerning the proper administration of justice were violated” in that the PGJDF made an indictment, using the contradictory testimony of the eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez without corroborating in depth the true nature of the testimony. Therefore, the PGJDF assembled a criminal file and an investigation without certainty and judicial security to those investigated.
The suspicious truth in the Dorantes case
Political pressure and lies from Mexico City’s District Attorney’s office have as their single objective to extradite photojournalist Sergio Dorantes at all costs, says Dorantes’s attorney Garcia Garrido.
The Mexico City District Attorney’s office deceived the U.S. government by claiming that false eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez did not recant his earlier testimony, in which he blamed photojournalist Sergio Dorantes of the murder of Dorantes’s ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa, former office manager of Newsweek Magazine’s Mexico Bureau. [You can see the recantation, broadcast on Mexican national TV, by clicking here]
According to a documented statement from the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, “the argument of Dorantes Zurita about the eyewitness recanting his testimony must be ignored, as representatives of the Mexican government assured the U.S. Department of State that such representation does not exist, and therefore has no merit.”
At a hearing this past June 23, Federal Judge Joseph Spero decided to postpone the issue of granting bail - over $100,000 - to free the photojournalist from his present incarceration at the maximum security holding facility of Santa Rita in California.
Despite the abundance of requested evidence submitted to Spero, the magistrate still declined granting bail to the photojournalist, according to the accused’s attorney Manuel Garcia Garrido, so that Dorantes could be extradited to Mexico.
“The Mexican government is applying extreme pressure. It’s a very delicate matter, and a very cynical move on their part, to assume we would fail to obtain the required evidence; they lied to the U.S. government about the recantation. It’s a perfect illustration of how much the government of Mexico wants to extradite him, regardless of numerous contradictory elements in the case.”
The magistrate ruled that Sergio Dorantes wouldn’t be released on bail if within a month, the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) decided to close the investigation (FCUAH-2/3755/05/12), together with criminal investigation 207/2003, against eyewitness Sanchez Martinez.
For that reason, on July 24, the magistrate will decide whether to grant or refuse bail. Granting bail could impede Dorantes’s extradition. “Sergio would be within his rights to stay in the US, and the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office could not ask for his detention for the same offense,” stated Dorantes’s attorney.
The PGJDF (district attorney) makes no effort to locate Sanchez Martinez and says that he is out of the country. For this reason, according to attorney Garcia Garrido, it is legally almost impossible that the FCUAH-2/3755/05/12 invesstigation could be concluded in the specified one-month period.
“The PGJDF knows that only closing the investigation can keep Dorantes from being freed. Despite the fact that concluding it is legally impossible, Mexican authorities continue to place obstacles in the way of the defense’s efforts. What’s more, they have exerted enormous pressure on us, accusing us of lying, even when we have official documents of all the evidence contradicting their position,” Garcia Garrido reiterated.
In a meeting with the attorney and Silvia Dorantes, sister of the photojournalist, Rodolfo Felix Cardenas, Chief District Attorney of Mexico City, Cardenas gave his word that he would remain impartial in the case and guaranteed Dorantes’s safety if he returns to Mexico.
“He is an impartial and seemingly trustworthy man, yet it’s difficult to obtain a concrete commitment from him. The PGJDF has not yet acted fully on the recommendation issued by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City; neither has it continued with the investigation FCUAH-2/3755/05/12. It has frozen all action on it by arguing that the file has not been returned to the judge.”
On May 17, Garcia Garrido filed complaint number P-637-07 with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights against Mexico for lying in the extradition process. The complaint is under review by the Executive Secretary of the commission, which is a division of the Organization of American States (OAS).
On July 2, 2003, one month after the murder of Alejandra Dehesa, Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez testified that he observed Dorantes Zurita fleeing the scene of the crime, stating that, “He [Dorantes] was breathing heavily and glared at him angrily and aggressively.”
Garcia Garrido says this piece of false testimony is the only evidence linking the photojournalist to the scene of the crime.
Recommendation 7/2007 of the CDHDF (Mexico Federal District Human Rights Commision), issued April 12, 2007, states that: “With the false testimony of the eyewitness and other flimsy evidence, Mr. Dorantes was deemed responsible for the crime. What is important in this, and we stress it, is its validation by federal judicial authorities.”
The commission verified that in investigation 207/2006, Sanchez Martinez declared in August of 2003 that Eduardo Briceño Martinez suggested to Sanchez Martinez that he could earn some money for services rendered, and subsequently introduced Sanchez Martinez to his half-sister Maria del Rocio Garcia, who, at the time, was a Public Prosecutor of precinct COY-1, a suburb of Mexico City. Rocio Garcia then offered Sanchez Martinez a bribe of 1,000 pesos to testify falsely against Dorantes in investigation COY-2/969/03-07.
On September 8, 2006, the PGJDF, through the Public Servants’ Internal Affairs Office, indicted all three of these people for the crimes of perjury and abuse of authority. Ultimately, however, the arraignment orders requested by the Public Prosecutor against the three were denied by the 24th District Criminal Justice Magistrate.
The CDHDF states unequivocally that, “This commission is convinced that the rights of legal security and due process under law in investigation COY-2/969/03/07 were violated, as clearly the PGJDF issued an arraignment based on the contradictory testimony of eyewitness Luis Eduaredo Sanchez Martinez, this without verifying thoroughly the veracity of such testimonies. This clearly corroborates that the investigation did not generate certainty and legal assurance by the persons involved in the investigation of the same,” concludes the CDHDF.
As per the request of the magistrate, Sergio Dorantes’s defense proved that the recantation was genuine. The attorney produced a notarized document of it. With this document the prosecutory in San Francisco admitted the existence of the recantation. According to Dorantes’s attorney, with the acceptance of the U.S. prosecutor, the magistrate is obliged to consider granting bail to the photojournalist.
“The Mexican government accepts that there is a recantation by the eyewitness, yet it claims that legally only the first testimony is valid. That obliged us to submit an expert’s opinion,” stated Garcia Garrido.
Then we sought the professional advice of a former visitor of the National Commission of Human Rights, Miguel Sarre, who determined that the recantation of the eyewitness Sanchez Martinez is valid: “Sarre’s opinion states that there is a very small possibility that the judge, without the testimony of the eyewitness, would have issued the arraignment order, because without any witness to place Dorantes at the scene of the crime, there could be no probable responsibility.”
After affirming that he was paid to lie in his first testimony, Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez vanished. The photojournalist’s attorney points out, however, that Martinez’s involvement in the case has not ended.
Above all, the eyewitness must appear in court to explain the apparent protection offered to him by Roberto Perez, then Chief Public Prosecutor of Coyoacan at the time of the investigation, and would need to be cross-examined to prove which of his two testimonies is true.
For now, the only “eyewitness” in the Alejandra Dehesa murder is living in the United States, according to the investigation by the PGJDF. “One way or another, the eyewitness will bear responsibility, and it is evident that he was pressured,” Garcia Garrido said.
Silvia, sister of Sergio Dorantes, and his lawyers condemned the numerous irregularites in his case
She trembles remembering that her brother is a prisoner in a maximum security jail in Oakland, California, due to a fabrication made by a Public Prosecutor from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF).
Silvia Dorantes quoting from a message that her brother sent her from his cell says “he is at the gates of hell”.
The 11 of December 2003, the 24 Penal Court of Mexico City issued an arrest warrant against Sergio Dorantes, charging him with the murder of his ex-wife, Alejandra Dehesa, the administrator of Mexico City’ Bureau of Newsweek Magazine.
Three years and four months later, the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF) determined that the only evidence that points towards Dorantes as the presumed killer was “fabricated”. The news “revived” Silvia who was near exhaustion knocking on doors seeking help for Sergio.
Then at a press conference yesterday at the Marquis Hotel on Reforma Avenue, Silvia insisted on Dorantes innocence. She spoke, backed by the evidence found in the Recommendation published by the CDHDF against the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office. This evidence states that Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, a 22 year old messenger, declared that he saw Dorantes rushing out from the crime scene. His statement turned out to be “a fabrication”.
María del Rocío García, a Public Prosecutor working on the case, paid Sánchez Martínez a thousand pesos for his declaration in order to be able to close the investigation.
Until today the whereabouts of Sánchez Martínez are unknown and María del Rocío García currently is an advisor in an agency at the Public Prosecutors Offices in the capital.
Meanwhile today, Dorantes’ lawyers were expecting – at the closing of this edition – the decision of an American judge to know whether he would be released on bail to continue afterwards extradition proceedings in order to face the charge attributed to him in Mexico City.
As soon as he knew that his ex wife had been killed and that he was the main suspect due to the description given by Sánchez Martínez to the Public Prosecutor, Dorantes fled to the United States.
The messenger went as far to declare that the day the homicide took place, a person with the physical characteristics of Dorantes, bumped into him outside of the house where Alejandra Dehesa was killed and also that this person swore at him in English.
The 4 of July 2003, Dehesa was found laying in a fetal position on the bathroom floor of her office in Coyoacán, her body stained with dried blood and a kitchen knife buried in her throat.
Today, Silvia states that all of her brother’s savings, product of his work for Newsweek, The New York Times, Paris-Match, Stern, El País and The Sunday Times have vanished in payments made to his lawyers.
She regrets that Sergio missed the funeral of their father a year and half ago [due to the accusation] and that he won’t be able to fulfill his dreams to retire and “live off of his savings and enjoy old age”.
“They [the Public Prosecutor] destroyed his life” Silvia alleges. She said that Sergio writes to her about his California experience [in jail] and despite being innocent,
“he is at the gates of hell.”
in the USA, Sergio Dorantes hopes to obtain his freedom
A memory. Photojournalist Sergio Dorantes met several personalities, amongst them ex-President Vicente Fox.
The lawyer of Sergio Dorantes accused by a man whom a Public Prosecutor paid to blame him of his ex-wife’s death, hopes that the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) accepts the Recommendation issued by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF) which points out that the eyewitness “fabricated” the only evidence against the photojournalist.
According to lawyer Manuel García Garrido, there is no reason for Dorantes to continue to be detained in a jail in San Francisco, California.
He explained that the only evidence against his client was the testimony of Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, a 22 year old messenger, who declared that he saw Dorantes leaving the crime scene in a rush.
This evidence, the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (CDHDF) ruled, was false. The Recommendations 7/2007, 8/2007, 9/2007 addressed to the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) indicate that the eyewitness “fabricated evidence damaging to Mr. Sergio Dorantes Zurita”. María del Rocío García, a Public Prosecutor working on the case, was the instigator of this fabrication.
“At this moment the arraignment of Dorantes will not proceed” García Garrido said.
What about if the PGJDF does not accept the Recommendation? the lawyer was asked.
“It would oblige us to go to trial. It also depends on the decision of the American judge concerning Sergio’s extradition, as now here there is no accusation [due to the CDHDF Recommendation] against him.” And he added “Sergio won’t be able to face the charge here, unless [extradition] happens, he’ll be sheltered in the USA.
This morning, Sergio Dorantes’ family and lawyer will give a press conference at the Marquis Hotel on Reforma Avenue to explain all the irregularities in the case. The lawyer stated that Public Prosecutor María del Rocío García is still working at the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office despite the fact that she paid a thousand pesos in order to fabricate evidence against Dorantes. The whereabouts of the eyewitness is unknown.
PUBLIC PROSECUTOR PAYS TO INVENT EVIDENCE, AFTERWARDS THE EYEWITNESS RETRACTS.
When he was accused of the murder of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa, from whom he had separated a year before, Sergio Dorantes fled to the USA, but he insisted – through thousands of letters sent over that period to the PGJDF – in his innocence.
He was a fugitive for over three years until the PGJDF asked the USA police to capture him. He was detained in California the 20 of February 2007. Since then he has been held in a maximum security prison near San Francisco, awaiting either extradition to his country or to be freed on bail by the USA judicial authorities.
The cause of these woes is the fabricated testimony of Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez who was paid a thousand pesos for such declaration. He received this payment by María del Rocío García a Public Prosecutor from the PGJDF.
Sánchez Martínez swore to have seen Dorantes rushing out from the crime scene, and this by far, was the only forceful evidence against him.
The Human Rights Commission of Mexico City found the PGJDF had started an internal investigation concerning the responsibility [during the crime investigation] of María del Rocío García.
According to the CDHDF investigation, eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez repented from his original testimony and presented himself at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in December 2005, there he told the truth and stated that Public Prosecutor García offered him a “little job”. She needed an eyewitness and if I played the game, she will pay a thousand pesos for it.
The following article is reproduced exactly as it first appeared. It quotes statements by the prosecutor that appear to incriminate Sergio. He disputes all these allegations, and in particular flatly denies that a blood-stained jacket was ever found in his car. 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.
Prosecutors stand by 'manipulated' murder case
The retraction of key witness testimony, the prosecution's alleged disregard for due process and a dearth of hard evidence won't stop authorities pursuing a murder charge against a former press photographer who is accused of killing his wife.
Prosecutor Miguel Ángel Mancera said police have investigated claims of witness tampering but found no reason to dismiss the testimony against Sergio Dorantes
Dorantes is jailed in California and fighting extradition to Mexico, maintaining police framed him by paying a witness to place him at the scene of Alejandra Dehesa's slaying near the time she died.
Coupled with circumstantial evidence including what police call a faulty alibi, "these clues ... lead you to the conclusion that what the witness said was true," Mancera said.
But Dorantes' defense insists that the testimony of Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, who said he saw a rattled Dorantes leave the Mexico City offices of Newsweek shortly before Dehesa's body was found there, fits the few facts a little too perfectly.
The bizarre 2003 killing returned to the spotlight this year with the February arrest of Dorantes, now 61, in California. In April, Mexico City's Human Rights Commission, or CDHDF, released reports accusing the investigators of botching numerous aspects of the investigation.
After the mysterious release of a video where Sánchez claimed he was paid about $100 to testify against Dorantes, the CDHDF ruled prosecutors violated the rights of the three main players in the case by not adequately investigating either Sánchez's original testimony or his retraction.
Dorantes, Dehesa's family and a prosecutor accused of engineering witness fraud all had their rights to due process violated, the commission said.
"What is certainly true is that the (legal) procedure was absolutely manipulated," said Luis González Placencia, one of the commission's lead investigators.
"It's not possible, at least as far as we can establish, to know what, in truth, happened," he said, noting that the commission does not rule on guilt or innocence.
Prosecutors' inability to secure the crime scene, which was trampled by the media and police, and gather forensic evidence also damaged the investigation.
Mancera said police found a bloodstained glove in Dorantes' home and a jacket with blood on it in his car after the killing but that forensic investigators were unable to get DNA from either sample.
If the sample was large enough, collected properly and not contaminated by heat, water or bacteria, forensic investigators should have been able to find evidence from the stains, said Fernando Peña Jr., a former crime lab supervisor in Texas.
"You should be able to get something out of it, even now, if it was properly protected," Peña said.
Similarly, investigators were unable to find any forensic evidence linking apparent scratch marks on Dorantes' neck to the victim — or ruling out a connection.
Mancera said police did not find any forensic evidence linking Dorantes to the crime scene. He said he did not know why tests on the bloodstained garments were inconclusive.
Dennis Riordan, Dorantes' U.S. lawyer, said a bail hearing for Dorantes was rescheduled for July 24. The extradition process could take years to complete.
The following article is reproduced exactly as it first appeared. At the beginning it cites statements by the prosecutor suggesting that Sergio's relationship with his estranged wife was abusive. 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.
Mexico City slaying case turned upside down
Photographer is prime suspect in his wife's death, but evidence was possibly fabricated
MONTERREY, MEXICO — The cops said they had a slam-dunk case against Sergio Dorantes.
When his estranged wife was found stabbed to death in the Mexico City offices of Newsweek in 2003, investigators heard allegations that Dorantes had been an abusive husband.
His alibis the night of the killing didn't check out. Police found a glove with blood on it at his home, and Dorantes, a freelance press photographer at the height of his career, fled the country.
Captured this February in California more than 31⁄2 years after the slaying of Alejandra Dehesa, he is now being held without bail in Oakland.
But a U.S. District Court judge, weighing his extradition to Mexico, is facing one difficult question: Did the Mexican police fabricate the evidence against him?
A key witness in the case has retracted his original statement to the police.
One month after the killing, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez told investigators that he had seen a rattled Dorantes leave the Newsweek bureau, where Dehesa worked in a clerical job, at the approximate time of her death, according to excerpts of a police file made public in April.
Two years after making the statement, Sánchez retracted it, saying police investigators paid him the equivalent of $100 to fabricate his story about seeing Dorantes that day.
The retraction was videotaped, and the Mexican media obtained it last fall, igniting a firestorm in which nearly everybody in the case — the accused, the prosecutor and the family of the victim — cried foul.
Authorities knew of the retraction as early as 2005 but have been slow to accept that it might blow their case apart.
Mexican police officials at a preliminary hearing on Dorantes' extradition initially denied Sánchez changed his story, according to defense lawyers.
"I think the judge considers it serious that the Mexican government first said there had been no retraction and then later said that yes (there was one)," said Manuel García, the lawyer handling Dorantes' case in Mexico.
Dorantes, 61, refused to surrender to the Mexican justice system after he became aware of Sánchez's recantation, lawyer García said. Dorantes spent years covering law enforcement in Mexico and has a deep mistrust of it, the lawyer said.
Under Mexican law, the case against Dorantes cannot proceed, by either being thrown out or going to trial, until he is arrested and brought before the judge hearing his case.
It's hardly news in Mexico that police are plagued by corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability, but to his defenders the Dorantes case demonstrated some of the excesses.
The prosecutor's office in the capital was chastised by Mexico City's human rights commission in a series of recommendations released this April.
The commission was responding to complaints by Dorantes, Ana María Dehesa, the murder victim's sister; and María del Rocío García, one of the prosecutors allegedly involved in fabricating the witness statement against Dorantes.
Dehesa's sister complained that the release of the video was incorrect, allowing Dorantes to air his defense in the media.
Prosecutor García complained that irregular methods were used in an investigation focusing on allegations she manipulated witnesses. The probe was eventually closed without charges.
The human rights commission said authorities violated due process in all three cases and recommended prosecutors make sweeping changes in the way they investigate crimes.
The commission also found that prosecutors and police botched a number of important investigative procedures. For example, the commission said, the officers who first saw the body tipped off the Mexico City press.
Reporters and photographers arrived before investigators and trampled the crime scene.
Forensic specialists were also unable to complete the analysis of a bloodstained glove found in Dorantes' home, strangely noting that the samples on the glove were insufficient not just to determine blood type, but to determine what species the blood had come from.
Bail hearing scheduled
Regarding the waffling witness, authorities "did not carry out the corresponding tasks to verify (his) statements" in either his original statement or retraction, the commission said.
Prosecutors, court officials and members of the human rights commission involved in the Dorantes case in Mexico did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Details aired by the rights commission suggested that the police had plenty of circumstantial evidence in the case. One witness said he saw Dorantes leave his home the night of the killing, when he claimed to be at home sending e-mails. Police said they did not find evidence that the e-mails had been sent on his computer.
Authorities also claimed to disprove Dorantes' explanation of the source of finger-caused scratches found on the back of his neck shortly after the killing, according to case file excerpts.
The human rights panel's recommendations carry no legal weight but mark the first time the public has had access to some of the details of the case against Dorantes, who in Mexican legalese is officially still considered "probably responsible" for killing Dehesa.
Dorantes is awaiting a bail hearing in Oakland scheduled for June 15.
Request for exoneration of photojournalist accused of murdering his wife and detained in the U.S.
The defense lawyer for Mexican photojournalist, Sergio Dorantes who is accused of murdering his ex-wife in 2003, on Wednesday asked that Dorantes be exonerated because the only witness incriminating him was bribed by an employee of the District Attorney’s Office.
Defense lawyer, Manuel Garcia, and the family of the accused maintained today in a press conference that Dorantes, who is detained in Oakland, U.S.A. and is waiting extradition, is innocent and that everything was a fabrication against him devised by the PGJDF (Mexico City Criminal Prosecutor’s Office).
On July 2, 2003 Alejandra Patricia Dehesa was murdered in the Mexico City office of Newsweek magazine where she worked as an administrator.
On August 4th of the same year Luis Eduardo Sanchez voluntarily showed up at the PGJDF office and said that he had seen Dorantes leaving the scene of the crime the day his wife was murdered, more or less at the time the murder occurred.
In December, 2003 based on this statement an arrest warrant was issued for the photographer, who immediately fled from the Mexican justice system.
Although on December 26, 2005 the eyewitness admitted that he had lied and that an employee of the fiscalia (District Attorney’s Office) paid him 1,000 pesos ($90) to give a false statement, the arrest warrant wasn't annulled and this led to the arrest of Dorantes in the United States on February 20, 2007.
This Wednesday the possible extradition or granting of bail will be decided for Dorantes who is in a maximum security jail in California.
Speaking to the press, Silvia Dorantes, the sister of the photojournalist, asked that the arrest warrant for her brother be rescinded and that they find her sister-in-law's real murderer, who is still at large.
“Not only have they killed Alejandra, but they have killed the life of my brother and that of the family”, she complained remembering the vigilance they have been subjected to by the PGJDF for more than three years which is very wearing . She maintained that all of this has caused them profound physical pain and injured their spirit and morale because the circumstances are painful, degrading, and humiliating referring to what they are saying about her brother.
She pointed out that he (Dorantes) is incapable of causing the harm for which he is implicated and added that the her brothers living conditions are very bad.
The defense lawyer and the family trust that Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico, will see this case as an opportunity to fulfill his promise to improve justice in the country.
During the more than three years since he has fled, Dorantes, who before this case worked for numerous international media companies, never stopped writing letters maintaining his innocence and stating that the eyewitness lied, and he requested that the Mexico City Commission of Human Rights open an investigation concerning his case.
Last week that organization closed the case file and gave a recommendation directed to the Mexico City Fiscalia (Attorney General’s Office) where it was pointed out that Dorantes' legal rights were violated during the murder investigation.
The organization also urged that an investigation be opened for possible irregularities against the public employees who participated in the murder investigation. They also requested that the Fiscalia continue with the murder investigation of Alejandra Dehesa, widening the previous inquiries.
EFE News Agency
Human rights commission confirms anomalies in Sergio Dorantes case
The Human Rights Commission of México City (CDHDF), confirms the irregularities found in the case of journalist Sergio Dorantes, who is accused of murdering his wife, and recommends that the Mexico City District Attorney‘s Office (PGJDF) should investigate the public prosecutor for the presumed fabrication of an eyewitness. Journalist Sergio Dorantes’ case might take a turn in his favor after the resolution published by the Commission of Human Rights of Mexico City (CDHDF). On 12 April 2007, a recommendation was issued attributing omissions and anomalies to public prosecutors from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office.
According to the document issued by the CDHDF, the claims made by Dorantes’ lawyer Manuel García are true; the only evidence against the photojournalist is the fabricated testimony of someone who falsely claimed to be a eyewitness. Until now, the public prosecutor lacked evidence against Dorantes Zurita for the homicide of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa. To solve the irregularities in the penal investigation FCH/CUH-2/3255/05-12, the Human Rights Commission has recommended that Chief District Attorney Rodolfo Félix Cárdenas continues to look into the role taken by the public prosecutors in the murder investigation directed by Bernardo Bátiz. According to the capital’s Ombudsman, this investigation has been frozen.
The CDHDF also requested, through its General Visiting Department, to start a probing technical-judicial study on the murder investigation against Dorantes Zurita. During the investigation, which began in July 2003, Dorantes’ defender managed to prove that the “eyewitness” testimony tying Sergio Dorantes to the crime scene was invented. For this testimony a public prosecutor paid the eyewitness a thousand pesos: $90.00 USA.
The false testimony stated that the journalist was seen leaving Alejandra Dehesa’s work place on July 2, 2003, the day of the crime. Months later the accuser not only recanted his testimony but he confessed that a public prosecutor paid him to identify the accused. On the basis of this discredited evidence – and if the CDHDF Recommendation is not accepted – Sergio Dorantes could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Restarting the case investigation, the CDHDF found a criminal file plagued with irregularities. The complaint for the violation of Dorantes’ Human Rights was presented to the Human Rights Commission on two occasions, the 14th of April 2004, and the 26th May 2006. Luis Angel Jiménez Maldonado, the Visitor in charge of the case, revealed that he discovered not one but two investigations in the case. In the second, the public prosecutor considered charges of perjury and abuse of authority in the administration of justice against supposed eyewitness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, María del Rocío García and her half-brother Alfredo Briceño Martínez.
This second investigation, initiated at the 24 Penal Court of Mexico City, was initiated when “eyewitness” Sánchez Martínez recanted his evidence. He admitted in December 2005 that public prosecutor María del Rocío García paid him one thousand pesos to claim that he had seen Dorantes Zurita leaving the office of his ex-wife around the time of the murder. He also conceded that it was Briceño Martínez who acted as an intermediary between him and García.
Because of these anomalies, on the 12th of April the CDHDF recommended that the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office (PGJDF) should carry out a technical-judicial analysis and that if this study finds unlawful or administrative conduct by the public servants to notify these facts to the Department of Internal Affairs and The Public Servants Prosecutor Office.
Since the past 20th of February, the journalist has been incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Oakland, California. According to an American judge, Dorantes will face extradition to México. On the 18th of April, he was denied bail.
[Sergio’s sister] Silvia Dorantes says that in the letters her brother sends her from jail, he summarizes his incarceration this way: “I am writing to you from hell’s doors”. For his family, this is devastating. The charges against Dorantes Zurita are no the only difficult situation his family faces. Sergio Cervantes, brother-in-law of the accused, states that he has been threatened: he has had threatening ‘phone calls in which he was told “Fucking jerk, if you continue meddling in the case we will beat the hell out of you and your family. Stop fucking with us.”
Besides requesting that the investigation against its public servants be opened to determine whether the eyewitness testimony is true, Recommendation CDHDF/122/04/COY/D11702.000 includes proposals to improve, strengthen and give judicial certainty to the work done by the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office.
The CDHDF states that in order to avoid further repetition of mistakes and injustices such as the those contained in Dorantes’ complaint, the PGJDF must prepare an integral work program to improve the administration of justice.
Also, the Commission urges the prompt intervention of the forensic services at crime scenes. Policemen, journalists and photographers from various media were carelessly allowed access to into the scene of Alejandra Dehesa’s homicide, before forensic experts could gather evidence needed to investigate the case. To stop this happening again, the CDHDF recommends the introduction of new procedures: to preserve the crime scene; to control how the judicial police (detectives) intervene there; to control how the public prosecutor and his assistants perform each stage of the investigation, and to develop mechanisms of supervision for prosecution personnel.
Finally, the CDHDF exhorts the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office to reach a cooperation agreement with the Ministerial Police Force of Mexico City to establish the method to preserve a crime scene in places where a crime is suspected to have taken place.
The Judicial Human Rights Commission of the Federal District submits a recommendation. They condemn the irregularities of the Judicial Procurador General of the Federal District in the Newsweek case.
The Human Rights Commission of the Federal District submitted a recommendation to the Capital Procuraduría for presumed irregularities of the Public Ministry in the case of Sergio Dorantes, the photojournalist accused of murdering his wife Alejandra Patricia Dehesa, the office manager of Newsweek, in Mexico City in July of 2003.
Dorantes - the accusations against whom depend on a witness who had been bribed with 1,000 pesos by the then agent of the Public Ministry Rocío García under pressure to close the case - was denied bail yesterday, and will continue to be held in a maximum security facility in Oakland, California, where he will face extradition proceedings.
The American judge's decision, however, is not final, as the defence can still appeal and try to continue the process outside the North County jail where Dorantes has been held since this past February, said his attorney Manuel García Garrido in a press conference, where he was accompanied by Silvia Dorantes, the defendant's sister.
He said that after reviewing the case, the Human Rights Commission determined that the capital procuraduría committed irregularities in proceeding with the initial case against Dorantes, and that these constituted violations of his human rights, specifically his rights to the guarantee of a fair trial and of due process.
The irregularities were contained in the critique FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-10, presented to the Central Investigating Prosecutor's Office of Public Services, against Rocío García, the Ministerio Publico agent in charge of coordinating the investigation of the murder, and the witness Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, who declared he was bribed [by Ms. García].
In addition, the preliminary investigation, conducted on September 8, 2006, contains the witness' confession that he was bribed by the Ministerio Publico investigator (who paid him a thousand pesos) to lie: he admits that he actually never saw Dorantes leaving the Coyoacán offices on the day of the murder.
However, the judge returned the delivered file for consideration of what would be needed to complete it, and no criminal action was brought against the guilty parties.
Consequently, and after analyzing the complaint brought by the photojournalist's defense, the ombudsman Emilio Alvarez Icaza issued the recommendation number 7/2007, directed to the capital procurador, Rodolfo Félix Cárdenas.
The Federal District Human Rights Commission requested that the Federal District Procuraduría of Justice complete a technical juridical study of the file FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12 and launch an investigation into the conduct of the public servants who participated in the original inquest. "In the event the completed study determined there was conduct that could constitute adminstrative malfeasance or crimes, it would be come before the Contraloría Interna and the Fiscalía Central de Investigacíon for Servidores Públicos."
For a few pesos more
The District Attorney of Mexico City used a false witness to accuse a photographer of the murder of his wife.
There are different ways to kill someone. You can thrust a knife into someone's neck, as happened to Alejandra Dehesa. Or you can destroy someone's life, as happened to her husband, a professional photographer named Sergio Dorantes. Who did in Dehesa is not known; who turned Dorantes' existence into a living hell, is. It was a man who did not even know him. A kind of paid character assassin, who in exchange for 1,000 pesos (some € 70/$90), invented the testimony which formed the grounds for an arrest warrant against Dorantes in December of 2003 for the his wife's murder in July of that same year.
The Mexico City Human Rights Commission has issued a report which shows, after a year-long investigation, that the witness "fabricated evidence to the detriment of Mr. Sergio Alfonso Dorantes Zurita" at the insistence of María del Rocío García, an agent of the Public Ministry investigating the case. The witness was a 22-year-old messenger named Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez.
This messenger swore he had seen Dorantes running away from the scene of the crime. As various sources cited in an article published in this newspaper on Dec. 4, 2005, this supposed testimony was the only remotely damaging evidence against Dorantes. These same sources – among them four lawyers – were quoted in the same article saying they greatly doubted the reliability of the witness.
Dorantes, a man born 60 years ago to a poor indigenous family, became one of the most renowned photographers in Mexico. For decades his work was published regularly in Time and Newsweek magazines, in The New York Times, as well as European media such as The Sunday Times of London, Paris Match, Stern, and El País. Upon being accused of the murder of his wife, from whom he had been separated for a year, Dorantes fled, all the while proclaiming his innocence through thousands of letters he has sent since then. He was a fugitive for more than three years until, at the request of the District Attorney of Mexico City, police in the United States detained him in California on February 20th. Since then he has languished in a maximum security prison near San Francisco, awaiting either his extradition to Mexico, or freedom on bail.
Dorantes, with whom El País has been in contact from jail, holds out hope that the information uncovered by the Human Rights Commission will serve to clarify the mystery surrounding the death of his wife, and convince the Mexican authorities to drop the charges against him. He also says he trusts that the new Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, will see his case as an opportunity to fulfill one of his electoral promises, the improvement of his country's justice system. However, the Human Rights Commission's report shows that, like hundreds more cases decried over the years by organizations such as Amnesty International, what President Calderón has proposed is a cleanup of Herculean proportions.
An auditor from the Commission discovered the truth about the Dorantes case by sheer accident. Last September 18th, the auditor went to the court where he requested to see the file on Alejandra Dehesa's murder. The clerk replied: "Which inquiry do you want? The first or the second?" The auditor was perplexed. Realising intuitively that something smelled wrong, he asked for the second, unknown, inquiry.
What the Commission had discovered was that the District Attorney of the capital city had carried out an internal investigation into the conduct of Agent María del Rocío García. According to the second, secret file, Sánchez Martinéz, the witness, came to regret his initial testimony and went to before the District Attorney's office in December 2005, where he told the true story of how Agent García had offered him "a little job". "She needed a witness" and if he would play along she would pay him 1,000 pesos. Sánchez Martínez agreed and was taken to see the house where the murder was committed – the office of Newsweek magazine in Mexico, where Dehesa worked as secretary – and was given a script he was supposed to memorize.
"I had to say I was walking down the sidewalk and a male individual left by the little door", Sánchez Martínez clarified. "I was supposed to say that it was a person approximately 1.65 meters [5.4 feet] tall, with acne scars on his face and thin. Also, I had to give a description of a vehicle this person was supposed to have gotten into and I was supposed to tell them that while walking I had bumped into this person and I was also supposed to say that he had called me an asshole, insisting especially that I should say that this individual seemed agitated".
Later, according to the file, the regretful witness told the District Attorney "they took him to the office of Agent Rocío, who told him not to give his home address, that he should instead put down his work address and that he ought to change one digit of his phone number, so he would not be able to be located."
The District Attorney's office called for the arrest of the messenger, the agent, and her brother, who was also implicated in the alleged plot. But a judge rejected the petition for "technical" reasons still not detailed. The three still walk free, while Dorantes, whose savings have all gone to pay his lawyers, remains in a California jail he describes as foul and dangerous.
He could remain there indefinitely, victim of manifest incompetence, criminal irresponsibility and the confusion of the judicial system which has condemned him. The Mexico City Human Rights Commission, an assuredly credible body, has recommended that the Attorney General of Mexico City Federal District investigate the conduct of "the public servants" in charge of investigating Alejandra Dehesa's murder, and that they not stop until the truth has been discovered. What neither the Commission nor anyone outside the clouded mysteries of the prosecutor's office knows to this day is why Agent María del Rocío García decided to accuse, by all indications falsely, Sergio Dorantes.
The latest buzz
Bernardo Bátiz, the ex procurador of the Federal District, attended a forum on the analysis of judicial matters proposed by president Calderón, which addressed the separation of the judicial police and the public ministry, and wire-tapping, and suggested measures to counter both of these violations of individual rights. Almost simultaneously, the Federal District Human Rights Commission published a recommendation to the Capital Procuraduría of Justice on irregularities in the murder investigation of the Newsweek office manager Patricia Dehesa. The Procuraduría, on Bátiz's order, accused Sergio Dorantes, husband of the victim, of having committed the crime, based on the testimony of a witness who was paid a thousand pesos to declare he had seen Dorantes at the scene of the crime. Would this kind of violation of individual rights be referring to Bátiz? Or would it have in mind the stalling, the corruption, and the despotism that rules the agencies of the Public Prosecutor? Note that this inquiry is from his successor, Rodolfo Félix [Cárdenas], who says that the Procuraduría General of Justice for the Federal District has never been worse.
Murder cases put criminal justice system on trial in Mexico
Focusing on Sergio's case in this article in the London Financial Times, Mexico-based journalist Ronaldo Buchanan explores the failure of the country's criminal justice sytem, adding "The lack of credibility in the system is particularly pervasive when it comes to the rich and well connected."
Click here to read the article in full.
Sergio Aguayo, April 15th, 2007
The murder of Alejandra Dehesa
An Irregular Investigation.
In July of 2003, a publishing assistant is found murdered. A false witness lays the blame on a photographer. Today, the case floats in legal uncertainty.
The murder of Alejandra Dehesa and the misfortunes of her accused murderer, Sergio Dorantes, are plagued with legal doubt due to the incompetence and irresponsibility of the Attorney General for Justice of Mexico City. In an unpublished work, the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF) just submitted three recommendations highlighting structural faults [in the case] and requesting an in-depth review. (Click here to see the report.)
Sergio was a photographer at the peak of his career, with job offers arriving from the world over. He married Alejandra in December 2000, only to separate two years later. His ex-wife, with whom he spoke frequently, worked at the Coyocan offices of Newsweek magazine. In July of 2003, members of her family and police discovered her there with 35 centimeters of a knife driven into her neck.
32 days later, Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez, age 22, made a voluntary statement to the Ministerio Publico (MP) [Local Prosecutor]. In what [Sanchez], a self-styled messenger, claimed were his own words, he saw Sergio Dorantes leave, in "a hurried manner from the domicile"... "he appeared disturbed"... he crossed "the street speedily heading for a red vehicle which he got into rapidly and started hastily". Several months passed and using this testimony and other evidence, the 24th [District] Judge issued a arrest warrant for the photographer, who during his three years as a fugitive sent out thousands of letters proclaiming his innocence.
The photographer was detained by [US Federal] Marshals in San Francisco, California on February 20th, 2007. Since then, he has been held in the maximum security wings of two California prisons. The Mexico City District Attorney requested his extradition which could become prolonged because the matter is now trapped in a confused legal limbo.
A prefabricated witness
Luis Angel Jimenez Maldonado is young auditor with the CDHDF (Human Rights Commission of Mexico City.) On September 18th, 2006 he arrived at District Courtroom 24 (Reclusorio Oriente [Eastern Detention Center of Mexico City]) where he delivered a formal request for the case files on the murder of Alejandra; he had been investigating the case since the photographer submitted a complaint to the [Human Rights] Commission insisting that the District Attorney's Office had manipulated the investigation to target him. The court clerk looked the document over and asked the auditor: "Which inquiry do you want? The first or the second?"
"I got a feeling that something was very wrong - recalled the auditor - because we had no idea there had been a second investigation. I asked him for a copy for the one we didn't know about". That file made his heart leap because it confirmed that Sergio Dorantes had been the victim of a maneuver by an agent of the Ministerio [Publico], Maria del Rocio Garcia. The stack of papers told of an inquiry ordered by Assistant DA Salomon Baltasar into the actions of the Ministerio Publico.
According to this documents, in September 2005 the messenger corrected his previous statement and swore before the Prosecutor that a half brother of Maria del Rocio Garcia had offered him a little job: "He needed a witness to make an affidavit in an inquiry" and if he accepted he "would be paid a sum of 1000 pesos [90 dollars]". His mission was very simple: say that he'd seen Sergio Dorantes leave the house where the crime was committed. After memorizing the script, "they took him to the office (of the MP), who told him to not give his own home address and instead give that of his workplace and change one digit of his telephone number, so that we would not be able to be found later". To be sure, the Ministerio Publico had incriminated the photographer using, to that end, a false messenger.
The District Attorney's Office requested that the messenger, [del Rocio], and the half brother all be detained, but the petition was rejected by the 24th [District] Judge due to a technical flaw (they had indicated neither the date nor the place in which the statement was made). From that point on, the supposed messenger disappeared from the scene to go, some say, "northward", to make a life in the United States. Since [del Rocio,] the Ministerio Publico considered the District Attorney to have violated her own rights, she [also] filed a complaint with the CDHDF.
All that was missing was a third complaint. For reasons unclear the messenger's second statement was filmed and the tape leaked out to a leading media outlet which broadcast the part which showed Sergio Dorantes had been a victim of a conspiracy. Click here to see the clip. Alejandra Dehesa's sister went before the [Human Rights] Commission and complained that the District Attorney had violated her sister's rights by leaking the tape, and moreover the media had not mentioned evidence that would demonstrate the photographer's guilt.
A Corrupt Investigation
"It is an unprecedented and emblematic case", commented Mexico City Ombudsman Emilio Alvarez-Icaza. Unprecedented because "the defendant, plaintiff, and the official from the Ministerio Publico all charged the District Attorney's Office with having violated their rights. Emblematic because it parades the shortcomings of the District Attorney in a way that leaves a absolute lack of legal certainty regarding what actually happened."
The imprisoned photographer was harmed because, despite the most central role of the messenger, the District Attorney did not even investigate if he was who he claimed to be. Furthermore, there were "incomplete forensics" which left holes in the investigation. For example, "in the course of gathering evidence from Alejandra Dehesa's home computers, performed by order of the Prosecutor, they neglected to analyze or review one of the computers." Nor did they follow the lead of a cab driver with traces of blood on his clothes and vehicle, and the crime scene was grossly mishandled because shortly after the family and police found the body reporters and photographers arrived — tipped off, perhaps, by some police officer hoping to win himself a kickback.
The description of the disorder of the crime scene would serve as a script for some classic of Mexican cinema. Since the bathroom door where the body was found was locked, a police officer "had to pry out the bolts from the door hinge and handle the bathroom door, besides having touched the walls in search of the lightswitch or other object with which to pry out the bolts". To all, the investigation carried out by the Ministerio Publico was incomplete, lacking, and unreliable.
The investigation of the official from the Ministerio Publico also racked up irregularities of many kinds. Her statement was recorded with the computer program "Word in place of the Recording, Management, and Monitoring System of the Proceedings of the Ministerio Publico and its Auxiliaries (SCAMPA)"; that meant that it was possible to alter the text.
The Commission also concluded that there were violations of the rights of the murdered woman because there was neither "grounds or legal motive for the videotaping of the statement" of the messenger, nor authorization for its leak to the media, nor was incriminating evidence presented against the photographer.
Who Killed Alejandra?
This is a crime awaiting an explanation and an ending. The case files leave more questions than answers. If [it is a given that] no Mexican would ever turn up voluntarily [to speak to] an agent of the Ministerio Publico, then were did the messenger come from, and who found him? Are a thousand pesos enough to convince somebody to be the central witness in a murder case? Why would he then change his mind? Supposing the agent of the Ministerio Publico had hired him, who found Maria del Rocio and in whose favor was she acting? There are also trails cut short. One of them leads to Los Pinos [the office of the President of Mexico].
In her declaration to the DA, the victim's psychoanalyst stated: "two weeks before her last session, Alejandra arrived quite upset, saying she was in trouble because someone had called her... the President's chief press officer wanted her to know she had attracted attention because Olga Wornat [an Argentine investigative journalist] had acknowledged the help of 'Alejandra Dehesa' in her book 'La Jefa'" [a controversial unfavorable portrait of then-First Lady, Marta Sagahun]. To be sure, the computer disks containing files related to this book had disappeared from the crime scene.
[Translator's note: Wornat thanks Dorantes as well in the book's forward, which appears here in Spanish. ]
Who killed Alejandra Dehesa? Is Sergio Dorantes a calculating and soulless killer or a victim whose life and career has been ruined, and who after spending 3 million pesos on lawyers and foregoing work during his time as a fugitive, ended up in a California jail where he will stay for who knows how long? It is up to the [US] judge to establish his innocence or guilt, considering as well that the legal authorities [in Mexico] violated the rights of the photographer and his ex-wife.
Absence of an explanation... and of justice
Hannah Arendt wrote memorably of the banality of evil: the acts of greatest cruelty can be committed by ordinary people for quite childish reasons. The conduct of the Mexico City District Attorney in the case of Alejandra Dehesa confirms this. The carelessness, inefficiency and disdain for human dignity is the rule for this branch of government, and it is built on individual ineptitude and/or corruption tolerated by an authority incapable of putting its own house in order.
One could also speak of the simplicity of the good; of the human tendency to combat abuse for quite elemental motives. Luis Angel, the auditor who by chance found the file which turned the Commission's investigation around, is a shy young man, who during the conversation we had spoke at length what led him to dedicate his life to human rights. The explanation is quite simple: his grandparents were rural teachers and they taught him to fight injustice and each week he reaffirms the superiority of doing right by acting as referee for second division Mexican soccer games. For the work of people such as the auditor to develop, institutions are required, and during the creation of this story I myself witnessed that the Mexico City Human Rights Commission has brought together people dedicated to combat abuse.
Last Thursday, the 12th of April, the Commission sent three recommendations
to the Office of the Attorney General, led by Rodolfo Felix Cardenas.
In essence, the Mexico City ombudsman asked him to determine who in his
staff is responsible for violations committed against the rights of the
photographer, the officer of the Ministerio Publico, and the victim, and
that within six months he present a plan for the Overall Prosecution of
Justice which includes at least the District Attorney's promise to protect
crime scenes, to put the most basic information in documents, and to guard
the case files. They requested the cessation of continuing a case that
shows the indefensibility in which we inhabitants of Mexico City find
ourselves. The Attorney General and the Governor of Mexico City, Marcelo
Ebrard, have 15 working days to respond if they will accept the recommendations
and embark on a full reform.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reporter Oscar Hernández: The main witness for the Department of Justice of the Federal District in the Newsweek case took back his testimony and revealed that he was paid 1000 pesos to lie, That is how he stated it in his ministerial declaration that he gave on December 26, 2005, and that was read back to him to ratify.
Interviewer: OK Luis, we asked you to come to read your declaration from December 26. Is this your signature?
Luis Eduardo Sanchez: Yes.
Reporter Oscar Hernández: Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martinez pointed out directly Rocio Garcia, who is currently the coordinator of consultants of the sub department of the central previous investigations, as the person that paid him.
Interviewer reading back Sanchez' declaration: The appointment came from Rocio, there on the street, to explain that she was responsible for the Agency of the Public Ministry in Coyoacan, and that she had a previous investigation that she couldn't figure out, and that she needed a witness to testify in that matter. That there was no problem, because what she wanted was to close the case. That she would pay me 1000 pesos if I presented myself to testify.
Reporter Oscar Hernández: He also confessed that on August 4h of 2003, and previously instructed by his friend, Alfredo Briceño, brother of Rocio Garcia, he presented himself at the Agency of the Public Ministry to testify in the matter of the homicide that had occurred one month before against Alejandra Patricia Dehesa Perez Reguesa, who worked as an administrator for Newsweek Mexico. The victim was murdered stabbed in the neck, inside her office, located in Coyoacan.
Interviewer reading back Sanchez' declaration: They took me to see Rocio Garcia, who asked me if Alfredo had already instructed me about what I was supposed to say. After I responded affirmatively, she indicated that I would meet with the judicial police, and then with the District Attorney, that he already knew everything, and that in fact, he would be the one to pay me the one thousand pesos.
Reporter Oscar Hernández: With Sanchez Martinez' testimony, on December 11, 2003, an arrest warrant against the victim's husband, Sergio Alfonso Dorantes Zurita, who fled the country, was issued. The believed murderer, who claims to be innocent, was interviewed telephonically by this news station last January 24.
Sergio Dorantes (recording): My accusation is based on a complete lie, so I do not have to go to prison for the lies told by a corrupted group of the Justice Department of the Federal District.
Reporter Oscar Hernández: Last February 20, Sergio Alfonso Dorantes Zurita was arrested in San Francisco, CA, based on an order of provisional detention with purposes of extradition. Apparently, this arrest warrant had its origin in the testimony made by a witness that claims to have been induced and bribed by the investigative authority. The witness claims that that authority is Rocio Garcia, who currently coordinates the consultants of the sub department of Justice of the central previous investigations of the Justice Department of the Federal District. Oscar Hernandez, Televisa News.
Reporter Carlos: Donador Ervizu, Chief of Televisa information, good morning, give us the details.
Reporter Donador: Hello Carlos! Good morning. This case didn't only bring the attention of Mexican journalists, but of foreign ones also, people Sergio worked with in the past, One of them, John Carlin, who worked with the BBC and The Independent. published an article over 1 year ago in the newspaper El Pais, entitled "Guilty without proof”, in which the situation is discussed and the actions of the Mexican authorities are criticized; particularly those of the Justice Department. In the process that has been opened against Dorantes, four penal Mexican attorneys have found incongruent and incoherent facts, at least one alteration in the crime scene, Carlos.
Reporter Carlos: Thank you very much Ervizu.
Life of the Nation
Who killed Alejandra Dehesa?
A lawyer very close to the Mexico City Criminal Prosecutor puts it this way: "I swear to God the murderer is Alfonso Dorantes".
Could be. But the authorities need to do more than swear, even if they swear to God. They must prove it.
Two days after the crime, July 4th, 2003 at 3:15pm, five agents of the Mexico City Judicial Police, three relatives of Alejandra Dehesa, and the family's lawyer, entered the offices of Newsweek in Coyoacán.
There they found Dorantes' ex-wife sprawled on the bathroom floor, in a fetal position, dead, with a 35 centimeter long knife in her chest.
As usual, the police notified the press and the house filled with reporters and photographers. The crime scene, obviously, was completely destroyed.
"Oh, how we regret asking those police to come with us to the Newsweek offices," said Alejandra's sister, Ana María Dehesa, speaking sometime later to the reporter John Carlin.
At the scene, no fingerprints were found belonging to Dorantes, the photographer whom the PGJDF (Mexico City Criminal Prosecutor's office) accused of having killed his ex-wife. The prosecutor bases the accusation on the testimony of a witness produced by the Prosecutor's office itself, to whom the District Attorney Rocío García paid 1000 pesos ($90 or £46) to finger Dorantes.
The relationship between Dorantes and Alejandra Dehesa was loud, according to accounts by people close to the victim.
Even after their separation, Alejandra still called him "dear" or "sweetheart". And according to the first prosecutor on the case, one time Dorantes threatened her with a toy gun.
What is known is that Alejandra Dehesa was murdered July 2, 2003, between 4 and 10pm.
Did someone enter the house between 4 and 10pm that day?
The witness lied. His testimony suggesting that he saw Dorantes is worthless, for the simple reason that he didn't see him. He made up the story that he "was in the neighborhood" looking for a job and bumped into him.
But there was another person at the scene of the crime, at the hour it was committed.
I'm referring to the taxi driver Óscar Jorge Sánchez, a former Mexico State police officer.
He stated that at 5pm, July 2, he went to the office of Alejandra Dehesa to pay her back 1000 pesos he owed her from a check she had given him to cash some days earlier, and that he still owed her a sum of 7000 pesos.
When Alejandra demanded he repay her, he claimed he had been robbed, which was false. Alejandra spoke to the taxi driver's wife, told her what had happened, and she forced her husband to return the money to the Newsweek office manager, under threat of being thrown out of his house.
In his deposition, Óscar Jorge Sánchez revealed, in fact, he had been to the office of Alejandra Dehesa to pay back 1000 pesos of his debt, she offered him a refreshment, they drank some mineral water and later he left.
Óscar Sánchez told the truth. But only halfway. In the Newsweek office, there were two empty bottles of Tehuacan (mineral water) and a can of Diet Coke. The 1000 pesos, however, were not.
Using a [forensic] luminol test, traces of blood were found on the driver seat of the taxi.
On the cab driver's tennis shoes, as well.
Sánchez was detained by the investigating agency. "Inexplicably, the magistrate Ricardo Cortez Bonilla ordered the release of this suspect, and no one knows anything more about him."
So says Bárbara Zamora -- the renowned lawyer and advocate for the family of Digna Ochoa (a prominent Mexican human rights lawyer, assassinated in 2001) -- who made a legal analysis of the case, and concluded:
"After a detailed analysis of the case, a series of omissions and errors stand out, committed during the investigation by the agent of the State, making it reasonable to believe there was manipulation of the investigation and supporting evidence."
In the midst of all this mess, perhaps a real murderer goes free.
A man, presumably innocent, thanks to testimony fabricated by a prosecutor and a witness bought with 1000 pesos, could spend 50 years in the Reclusorio Norte (a Mexico City prison).
And a dead woman's family and friends wait for justice.
District Attorney’s agent fabricated a murdered
Yesterday, a paid eyewitness made clear in the news program of Carlos Loret de Mola, that it was the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office who paid for his declaration.
He pointed the finger at María del Rocío García, a DA agent who sent photographer Sergio Dorantes to jail by blaming him of the murder of his ex-wife Patricia Dehesa.
The eyewitness, Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martínez, said that the agent from the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office paid him a thousand pesos for his incriminating testimony.
Dorantes hid for three years. Last week he was detained in San Francisco and he will return to clear up the allegation.
Murder in Coyoacán
Sergio Dorantes was a photographer of no mean reputation, and one who was a bit arrogant toward his media colleagues.
Of indigenous descent - born in San Martín Xochináhuac in 1946 -, Dorantes enjoyed being different, and also enjoyed working for the most prestigious international publications.
In fact, he was really very good. Wherever he worked he carried with him a small aluminum ladder to gain a better perspective on his subject. Whenever the top journalists of international media came to Mexico they sought out their favorite photographer to illustrate their interviews: always Sergio Dorantes.
Carlos Salinas, at the height of his career, jogging in green and white pants. Zedillo looking worried behind his glasses. Cárdenas, smiling for the first time. Fox in cowboy boots, hat and monogrammed belt buckle, at his San Cristóbal ranch.
All these photos were carried in Newsweek, the New York Times, Paris Match, der Stern, El País, The Sunday Times …. Dorantes had achieved fame.
But not only for that is Sergio Dorantes known.
On the 11th of December, 2003, a judge of Mexico's Federal District Court issued an arrest warrant against Dorantes, accusing him of the murder of the office manager of Newsweek in Mexico City Alejandra Dehesa Reguera, who happened also to be Dorantes's wife. Or rather his ex-wife. They were already separated when, on July 4, 2003, she was found curled in a fetal position in the bathroom of the office on calle Francisco Sosa, in Coyoacán, her body covered with dried blood and a kitchen knife run through her throat.
Dorantes fled, went into hiding, and on a relatively frequent basis, corresponded with the author of this column by way of the internet.
He said he was innocent of the crime. Lawyers who studied the case are in agreement. He sought support in the media because, in his opnion, he has been framed by the district attorney of Mexico City.
"A man judged guilty without evidence: a Mexican story," was the title of an amply documented feature article by the noted journalist John Carlin, in the Spanish publication El País, one of the best newspapers in the world.
The sole "witness" in the incrimination of the photographer, Carlin maintains, is Eduardo Sánchez Martinez, a twenty-two-year-old messenger, who claimed he bumped into Dorantes outside the Newsweek office entrance as Dorantes ran from the site, nervous and agitated, on July 2nd, 2003.
Plainly speaking, a witness who emerged from nowhere.
Sánchez Martínez, according to the record, came of his own volition to denounce Dorantes - and his description to police of the murderer coincided precisely with their description of Dorantes. The "eye witness" appeared at the district attorney's office one month after the crime, saying he had seen a TV news program mentioning the murder of de Hesa.
Fingerprints found at the Newsweek office did not match those of Dorantes. Based solely on the testimony of Sánchez, the Mexico City D.A.'s office obtained an arraignment order against Dorantes. Dorantes, through his attorneys, then filed a denunciation (denuncia FCH/CUH-2/3755/05-12) against the D.A. and the witness. The reason, they stated, was that the witness later confessed to having been bribed by an official in the D.A.'s office to give false testimony. The icing on the cake of this affair is that the "eye witness," it turns out, is a third cousin of one of the deputy district attorneys involved in the case, Monica García.
Dorantes, meanwhile, has been arrested in California, pending an order for extradition.
Had he not fled Mexico, the photographer would have been sent to the Reclusorio Norte del Distrito Federal prison.
Does he deserve such punishment? Did he or did he not murder his ex-wife?
A witness bribed by authorities should not be the key element in deciding his fate.
Justice in Mexico.
It is probable, but only probable, that Mexico could impress one as a civilized country, a place where the law is respected. Unfortunately that impression is superficial. For if we explore it just a bit, we find a huge nucleus of corruption at every turn….
The recent and much publicized case of Luis Alfonso Belmar, murdered in a traffic incident by thugs in a white BMW; and the dramatic case of Hugo A. Wallace, kidnapped and probably murdered, are merely two items in an extensive catalogue of incompetence by Mexico's criminal justice system. Wallace's case is conspicuous furthermore for the fact that practically the entire investigation has been carried out not by police detectives but by his mother Isabel Miranda Wallace.
The scandalous case of photojournalist Sergio Dorantes, reported by Pablo Hiriart in his column on Excelsior (February 28, 2007) is a vivid and shocking illustration of how Mexico City's district attorney's office and the Mexican police investigate a serious crime. Because the facts speak best for themselves, I transcribe a portion of Hiriart's article. "According to Dorantes's attorney Manuel Garcia, the prosecution's star witness [the putative eye-witness] Luis Eduardo Sánchez Martinez, was bribed to accuse the photojournalist."
Yesterday morning this fact was confirmed. Surely Dorantes has now had time to accustom himself to being confined to his Oakland, California jail cell. Yet it is a fact that none of us should be comfortable with. Rather it should shock us all and make us afraid. On his TV news program recently, Carlos Loret de Mola presented a video wherein "eye-witness" Sánchez Martinez admitted to having been paid to give false testimony against Dorantes. Martinez said openly that he had seen nothing of what he reported in his original testimony. (Click here to see the clip.) So who paid him to lie and blame Dorantes? A deputy district attorney from the Mexico City office named Rocío Garcia. Why did this woman buy a witness and fabricate the case against Dorantes? Because Rocío Garcia wanted to close the case. How much was the witness paid to fabricate the story against the photojounalist? The amount was a thousand pesos. Where is deputy D.A. Rocío Garcia now working? She now is a coordinator of advisors at the Mexico City District Attorney's office.
As if we needed more to worsen our outlook on Mexico's justice system, consider this year's report from Amnesty International. Its headline reads "Mexico, laws without justice: human rights violations and impunity in the public security forces (police) and the penal justice system." Solutions to this terrible problem. They've already been stated and restated endlessly: a professional police force with professional detectives, radical modification to the monopoly of justice administration by a small number of overworked and overwhelmed district attorneys, and the pinpointing and cataloguing of instances of corruption among the police. Finally, Mexico must begin to implement the practice of open trials, so that judges will never again be tempted to make their decisions based on money.
Translated Sergio Dorantes. Edited and interpreted by Larry Rowinsky.
This article has been edited to highlight the case of Sergio Dorantes. You can read the full article, in Spanish, by clicking here
Journalist Sergio Dorantes Captured in the US
Based on a questionable arrest warrant - based on the statement of a manufactured witness by the PGJDF -, the journalist Sergio Dorantes was arrested in the US last Feb 20th. In agreement with his lawyer Manuel Garcia, the photojournalist will be extradited to Mexico in the next weeks or perhaps months, where he will be tried for the murder of Alejandra Dehesa his ex-wife and manager of the local office of Newsweek. In spite of the irregularities committed in the judicial process, among which stand out the fabrication of a witness attributed to the Procuraduria General de Justicia del Distrito Federal (PGJDF) - the journalist Sergio Alfonso Dorantes Zurita was arrested in the US and put at the disposal of those authorities this past Feb 20th.
Without any material evidence and described by Mexico's District Attorney Bernardo Batiz as “a very strange case because there doesn’t exist sufficient proof against Sergio Dorantes Zurita” the Captial’s Public Ministry points to the photojournalist as being the murderer of of his ex-wife Alejandra Dehesa Perez Reguera. The manager of the Mexican Office of the American magazine Newsweek was murdered July 2, 2003. Concerning the arrest of his client, lawyer Manuel Garcia explains that it has to do with the fulfillment of the extradition request made by the Mexican government. In regard to the legal situation of Sergio Dorantes, the defense lawyer indicated that “he will have to appear before a Mexican judge in order to clarify his presumed responsibility in the murder case of Alejandra Dehesa”. He explains that “in this context, there is already a previous inquiry in respect to the only link of Sergio to the crime scene which is a supposed witness who theoretically saw him leave the office where his ex-wife was murdered”.
And for his lawyer, the evidence given by the Capital’s Procuraduria is insufficiente to make the photojournalist responsible. As Contralinea documented last November, the previous inquiry FCUAH - 2/3755/05/12 with penal case 207/2003 determined that the witness, Luis Eduardo Sanchez Martinez - who one month after the murder said he had seen Dorantes hurriedly leave Dehesa’s office the day of the crime - has confessed that the PGJDF agents had paid him 1000 pesos for his statement.
The Probable Extradition
In the likely extradition of Dorantes that could occur in the coming weeks or months, Manuel Garcia says that “we are pressing to obtain the information that might show clearly that Sergio wasn’t seen by this witness. Seeing that the same witness admits in a different previous inquiry that he was bribed by the Public Ministry who investigated the homicide of Alejandra Dehesa.
The defense lawyer of the photojournalist doesn’t reject the possibility that the legal action isn’t in effect, but he points out that this scenario is difficult. The US authorities don’t enter into analyzing the arrest warrant as to if it is well guided or not. They accept it as valid and limit themselves to fulfilling the required form that is the extradition. He explains that in order for the extradition to be suspended we would need the Mexican judge to stay or revoke the arrest warrant which is very complicated. In the US the authorities aren’t going to analyze the guilt or innocence of Sergio, and the only way to release him in the US is that the Mexican authorities revoke the arrest warrant which seems complicated but not impossible.
The lawyer relates that Dorante’s case could take a turn if the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District (CDHDF), institution that shortly will present it’s opinion on the action/complaint/statement presented on behalf of the the photojournalist, makes a recommendation to replace the legal action.
Probably the Commission will ask the Procuraduria for an integration based on the inquiry, and then request that the arrest warrant no longer be in effect. But we cannot be certain until the CDHDF pronounces this. Legally it’s clear that the Procuraduria and the judge don’t have procedural mobility, stated Manuel Garcia.
Witness, False Evidence
To carry out the extradition of Sergio Dorantes and the subsequent consignation/remand, the lawyer pointed out that the only objective evidence presented by the PGJDF is insufficient to charge the defendant. “We are possibly going to ask the case’s judge, who is penal judge 24 in the Federal District, that he draws up release papers. For Manuel Garcia this request is very viable, since the judge will be able to analyze the witness’s statement that plays a role in the previous inquiry FCUAH - 2/3755/05/12, and which discovers the falseness of the statement. And with which the main evidence against the journalist vanishes.
After this analysis the judge will be able to send out the release papers for Sergio Dorantes with the argument that there can’t be any legal presumption over who was the murderer, explains the defense lawyer. He added that this would be the first option and the most logical position.
He says in a scenario where the judge might decide to subject Sergio to trial and deny him freedom , obviously we would have to go to a complete penal trial to be able to prove his innocence.
He noted that until now the falsification of the testimony hasn’t been analyzed because “the judge hasn’t wanted to view/judge the minor technical details.. He says that the penal procedings haven’t been initiated, and, therefore, one can’t judge the evidence because it isn’t the time for the assessment of the evidence.
Concerning the Human Rights Commission pronouncement, the lawyer has confidence that it will point out that this proceding is a clear violation of his client’s human rights, consisting in the manufacture and bribing of the only witness that links him to the scene of the crime. He is sure that the Procuraduria doesn’t have facts and this can have repercussions on the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission. And although this doesn’t obligate/force the authorities to respect the recommendations, it will show clearly that a third party observed the flagrant violation of these rights, and, most importantly, the fabrication of a witness to incriminate an innocent person. In regard to the inquiry that demonstrated the statement’s falseness, the lawyer says that, although it isn’t the same as homicide, it’s related directly with the facts/events. We will bring use this inquiry/investigation as evidence, which, in addition, is already briefed. This is to say that as to what the judge said, the Procuraduria has already briefed before a penal judge, that in addition is the same one that knows the case against Sergio Dorantes, in regard to the homicide. And he makes clear that this false testimony is the only objective evidence that the Procuraduria has to connect Sergio with the crime scene. “There is nothing else. There aren’t fingerprints, DNA evidence, or blood evidence. There is nothing that ties Sergio with the scene of the crime except the word of the witness, Luis Eduardo”. Manuel Garcia explained that the manufacture of witnesses can be very serious. “I can’t give an opinion in regard to the handling of the Procuraduria as to why it did it or didn’t do it. I would like to think that rather it is the error of a person and not of an institution, but obviously this is serious. If the Federal District Procuraduria solves problems like this, the result will be that anyone can be guilty of any crime, just by the manufacture of witnesses.”
eric 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.)