Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

U.S. newspaper editor protests acquittals in journalist’s death

August 11, 2001


— The widow and the editor of a U.S. journalist who was found in 1998 buried in a shallow grave in the remote mountains of central Mexico expressed anger Friday at a judge's acquittal of two men accused of murdering him.

But a U.S. philanthropist who helped finance the defense for the men who at one point confessed to the killing said the state had never even proven that Philip True was murdered rather than died in a hiking accident, as one forensic witness claimed.

Earlier this week, the chief prosecutor in Jalisco state appealed the acquittal of Juan Chivarra de la Cruz and Miguel Hernandez de la Cruz. A three-judge panel is expected to rule on that appeal, which is allowed under Mexican law, within a few months.

The developments left the death of True, a correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News, as frustratingly unresolved as the day his badly decomposed body was discovered in the remote mountains of the Huichol Indians in December 1998.

The case has been riven with contradictory autopsies, disputed allegations of torture to extract confessions and a dizzying cast of players. The 2 1/2-year trial has gone through three judges and four prosecutors in the small town of Colotlan in Jalisco state, ending with the ruling Aug. 3.

Robert Rivard, the newspaper's editor and a friend of True who has doggedly pursued the case since the reporter's death, told a news conference Friday: "There is a mountain of physical and circumstantial proof that it was not a hiking accident, that it was murder."

Rivard also sought to blunt recent suggestions by some human rights activists that the prosecution of the two Indians had been a heavy-handed attempt by the Mexican government to satisfy U.S. demands for justice in the case.

"This is not a football game," he said. "The release of the suspects is not a victory for Mexico or against the United States. To the contrary, we have a victim of homicide, and we have guilty parties, and we want justice."

The head of the Jalisco human rights commission, Maria Guadalupe Morfin, wrote in a newspaper column Wednesday that the evidence suggested that True had fallen to his death in a state of extreme drunkenness, and that the suspects had been tortured.

In Guadalajara, Miguel Gatins, an American who became involved in the defense of the two men last December, said he spent nearly $30,000 in helping develop the defense over recent months.

"The main thought I had was the sense of inequality of the scales of justice, of the gigantic powers on one side: the U.S. government, the state of Texas, Mexican authorities, the army. And on the other side, two little Indians. It started bothering me."

Rivard, on the other hand, described the defense as the beneficiary of Gatins' comparatively huge contribution, arrayed against the efforts of the inexperienced and frequently changing local prosecutor.

Rivard argued that the defendants had confessed to the killing in several official statements and interviews but that only later did their accusations of torture emerge. He said that journalists had been with the defendants much of the time after their arrest and never saw signs of torture.

The dispute also turned largely on the two autopsies conducted on True. The first, in Guadalajara right after the body was discovered, found that True had been strangled to death. As controversy grew, the federal government ordered a second autopsy about 10 days later, which found that True had died from pulmonary edema, possibly the result of a severe head injury.

Both autopsies found high alcohol levels, but forensic experts have noted that decomposed bodies often contain high natural alcohol levels. Colleagues who knew True as a health nut found it hard to believe he would get drunk.

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