It has been almost one-and-a-half year since Arcelia Medrano lost her 17-year-old son in a massacre in Ciudad Juárez that made international headlines on January 2010.
Mrs. Medrano can’t hold the tears when she remembers the last time that she saw her younger son, Juan Carlos, lying unconscious in a hospital bed unable to breath by himself. “With his death, I lost the reason of my life”, she said to a group of reporters last week.
The last days have been particularly difficult for Medrano and her family, but this week could be critical for them too. Just few days ago she saw for the first time, the pictures of the crime scene in Villas de Salvarcar, where 15 young people were killed by a group of armed men, during a birthday party on January 30.
The photos were part of the evidence presented by the prosecutor office during the criminal trial against the five men who are allegedly responsible for the massacre. The oral trial began June 20 and after two weeks of arguments and evidences presented by the prosecutors and the defense, the judges would probably have a verdict and sentence by the end of this week.
“I have hope and faith that there will be justice”, said Medrano outside of the Ciudad Juarez courtroom last Friday. “I’m very tired of this. Even if they release them, I know that there is a God that will punish them.”
Regardless of the final verdict, the trial has all the elements to become national news for several reasons. Let’s look at some of them.
-- The five accused men have argued that they confessed their responsibility in the crime because they were tortured. According to the defense lawyers some of the suspects have accepted that they were involved in other major crimes —one of them was already sentenced for his role in the killings at Bar Amadeus, where five people, including a U.S. soldier, were executed— but not in the Villas de Salvarcar massacre. One of the defendants, Israel Arzate, is under legal protection and his case has been supported by human rights organizations, which have argued that there is enough evidence to demonstrate that he was verbally, physically and psychologically tortured.
-- The confessions of the accused men are the strongest evidence on the prosecutor side, but if the judges decide that the allegations of torture are sustainable enough, the prosecutors would be in a big problem. This point would take us inevitably to the lack of professionalism in the way in which criminal investigations and the consequent arrests are conducted in Mexico. A clear example can be seen in the video in which one of the accused men is explaining his role in the Villas de Salvarcar massacre: when he is talking, anybody can hear other people talking and laughing loud in the back.
-- The three judges participating in this case are under strong political pressure because of the Marisela Escobedo’s effect. As you probably remember, the activist and mother of Rubi Freyre was killed on Dec. 16 last year, while demanding justice for her daughter’s assassination. Escobedo became a public figure when she decided to protest a state tribunal decision that cleared the man who allegedly confessed his responsibility in the killing of her teenager daughter. The judges in that case argued that they released the man because the lack of evidences presented by the prosecutors. They said that the attorney office was not able to demonstrate the responsibility of the accused man and their decision was based on the law. However, public opinion and the federal and state authorities targeted the judges. They were fired, scrutinized and prosecuted.
The Villas de Salvarcar’s massacre forced the national government and the entire country to look closely at the situation in Juárez. For that reason, the result of this trial is so important at the political level. The pressure for the judges is then enormous.
For the victims, however, the most important thing is to have closure and justice. As Mrs. Medrano says, “I would like to see them (the killers) in jail, but inside me I’m thinking ‘I hope they investigated well, I hope they are judging the right people.’”
For the judges that should be the most important thing too.