CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — Gunmen killed a mother who had been protesting for three days in front of a governor's office in northern Mexico to demand justice for her slain daughter, authorities said Friday.
Masked men pulled up in a car Thursday night and shot Marisela Escobedo Ortiz in the head in front of the governor's office in Chihuahua city,capital of Chihuahua state, said Jorge Gonzalez, special state prosecutor for crime prevention.
Surveillance cameras around the government building showed gunmen getting out of the car and Escobedo running into the street toward the governor's palace, but one of the gunmen chased her down and shot her — an image transmitted repeatedly on national television broadcasts.
A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, Carlos Gonzalez, said the gunmen exchanged angry words with Escobedo's brother just before the shooting. He said investigators believe one of them is Sergio Barraza, who had been the main suspect the killing of Escobedo's 17-year-old daughter. He was absolved by a court in April for lack of evidence.
Escobedo was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died within minutes.
She had been campaigning for a conviction in the killing of her daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo, whose burned and dismembered remains were found in a trash bin in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on June 18, 2009. She had been missing for nearly a year.
Escobedo had staged numerous marches, once wearing no clothes, wrapped only in a banner with her daughter's photograph.
"This struggle is not only for my daughter," Escobedo said then through a megaphone, her voice breaking. "Let's not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city."
Three days ago, Escobedo planted herself in front of the offices of Gov. Cesar Duarte and vowed not to move until investigators showed progress in the case. In an interview with the newspaper El Diario on Sunday, Escobedo said she had received death threats from Barraza's family.
Duarte said state security officials had been assigned to protect Escobedo, although from a distance. He said their failure to protect Escobedo on Thursday would be investigated.
Prosecutors said Barraza, Frayre's live-in boyfriend, admitted murdering her and led police to the body. But during the trial, he proclaimed his innocence and claimed he had been tortured into confessing. A judge ruled in April that prosecutors failed to present material evidence against him.
The case exemplifies the problems of the judicial system in Chihuahua state, one of the first in Mexico to adopt oral trials instead of the system of closed-door interrogations and filings of documents used for most Mexican trials.
Despite training, Chihuahua police and prosecutors have struggled to adapt to a system that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors. Many homicide cases have been thrown out for lack of evidence or never make it to trial. Often, police rely solely on confessions that suspects later claim were made under duress. Newly captured suspects in much of Mexico are often displayed to the press with bruised faces.
Duarte, however, accused the court of wrongly releasing Barraza. He said he has requested that the Chihuahua judiciary fire the three judges who presided over the case and that the state legislature strip the judges of their immunity from prosecution so they can be charged with abuse of power.
In Ciudad Juarez, where Frayre was killed, police have overwhelmed by drug gang battles that have made city one of the world's deadliest. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the city of 1.3 million this year alone.
Records obtained by The Associated Press show that last year, when 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors filed 93 homicide cases and got 19 convictions.
Chihuahua's judicial deficiencies go back years before the new system was implemented, or before drug-gang violence soared to unprecedented levels.
In the 1990s, hundreds of women were killed around Ciudad Juarez, with about 100 sexually assaulted and dumped in the desert.