TIJUANA — When the inevitable question was asked, Jorge Hank Rhon hardly flinched.
At age 32, he is, after all, a man who has reason to feel secure: He is the high-profile and wealthy president of Caliente Racetrack, a multimillion dollar Tijuana institution. And he is the son of Carlos Hank Gonzalez, an oil-industry magnate, former mayor of Mexico City and a man who is counted among Mexico's power elite.
Despite the younger Hank's unconventional appearance--he sports shoulder-length hair, a scraggly beard and favors shiny black suits, body-hugging silk shirts and fur-lined coats--he glides with ease among the powerful here, his nearby assistants anticipating his needs.
Early Morning Press Conference
But early Sunday morning, as a dozen newsmen from Mexico and the United States gathered in his race track office, Hank was uncharacteristically on the defensive: Was it possible, he was asked directly, that he ordered the murder last month of a popular newspaper satirist who frequently poked fun at the race track mogul?
"I suppose anything is possible," the suddenly embattled Hank replied in his soft voice, appearing only slightly taken aback by the question. "But the answer is no: I didn't do it."
Hank was on the spot because of sensational revelations that surfaced Saturday regarding the slaying of newspaper columnist Hector (Gato) Felix Miranda, who was killed by two shotgun blasts April 20 as he drove to work.
The disclosures--naming the alleged killers and linking them directly to the racetrack operation--have served to focus intense attention on Hank, who acknowledged that he and Felix were one-time good friends who had a falling out more than a year ago about a party invitation. The two principal assassins, according to Baja California state police, were race track employees--including the track's chief of security. Both are former state police officers.
The developments fueled the already intense speculation surrounding the death of Felix, whose slaying has drawn international attention and sparked a popular outcry here and numerous demands for a thorough investigation. The case has gripped this border city for almost two weeks.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that the alleged trigger-man in the slaying, Victoriano Medina Moreno--a track guard who allegedly exchanged $10,000 in cash at about the time of the slaying--spoke nearly incoherently at a news conference late Saturday night. Handcuffed and appearing bruised and groggy, Medina said he had been forced to sign a confession for police.
"These are forced declarations," Medina said of his purported confession, before being whisked away by police officers.
Authorities denied coercion was used against Medina, a Tijuana resident who was dismissed from the state police force several years ago for unspecified "irregularities."
"There was no such pressure; he was treated well," said Jorge Medina Ibanez, Baja California district attorney, who is not related to the accused.
Late Saturday, the feisty afternoon daily El Heraldo published an "Extra" edition on the latest developments, featuring a full-page photo spread juxtaposing photographs of Hank with shots of the murder scene.
But police said that Hank was not a suspect and had not been questioned.
Authorities firmly denied that they were in any way trying to protect Hank by focusing on only those directly involved in the killing. "The investigation is continuing and we will follow through wherever it leads us," said Baja California Atty. Gen. Roberto Morales Grajales.
Outlining a firm theory about the murder for the first time, police said the slaying was prompted by negative articles penned by Felix about one or both alleged killers.
But J. Jesus Blancornelas, who co-edited and co-founded the maverick weekly Zeta along with Felix, said he could recall no items that had appeared in Felix's columns in the past two years about the two men. But recent columns by Felix had chided Hank and a close associate, Alberto Murguia, about a number of matters, including the track's labor problems and purported financial difficulties, as well as numerous murky personal references.
Hank Holds Press Conference
At a post-midnight news conference Sunday, Hank said he had nothing personal against Felix or his work. He called Felix's satirical column, known as Un Poco Algo (A Little of Something), "a little disagreeable," echoing a widely held sentiment about the racy but popular column.
"He spoke to a public who liked to hear someone speaking badly of people who were better off than them," said Hank of the newsman, whose gossipy column had been a fixture here for more than a decade.
Although Felix lampooned everyone from taxi drivers to Mexico's president, he reveled in exposing the personal and professional peccadilloes of the rich and powerful.
Asked if the latest revelations and the suspicion would hurt the race track's image, Hank replied: "It will hurt the image of Jorge Hank Rhon, not of Caliente Racetrack."