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VALLEY NEWS

Amado Renews Fight to Avenge Brother's Death

Crime: A Mexican police officer jailed for slaying Mario Amado was released last week. Joe Amado vows to seek his return to prison.

May 15, 1996|FRANK B. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joe Amado is back on the case. Just four months after it appeared he had won his years-long, high-profile fight to avenge the strangulation of his younger brother in a Mexican jail, the Sun Valley man was back Tuesday, holding a news conference before the Mexican consulate on 6th Street and protesting that the Mexican justice system is corrupt.

Only Monday, it was learned that a Mexican police officer, sentenced just four months ago to eight years in prison for the slaying of Amado's brother in 1992, had been cleared of all charges and released by a Baja California state appeals court last week.

Amado had at first said he would not bother to try to appeal the ruling to the Mexican federal court system. But Tuesday he said he had changed his mind and would press on with a court battle.

"I am at a different frame of mind today than I was before, when I first learned of the decision," Amado said, standing beside his sister, Dolores Amado. "I was disillusioned but now I have my spunk back."

Amado said he is rallying family members to help him hire a lawyer in Mexico, in the hope that the officer will be back in jail soon.

He said he would again call on Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) to pressure Los Angeles area political officials to get involved in the case. "I am asking Berman and others to write to the Mexican attorney general," Amado said.

His earlier campaign succeeded in enlisting Berman, who then managed to get the then-president of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, interested in the case. Following the president's intervention, Mexican authorities--who had previously insisted that Mario Amado committed suicide in the Rosarito jail--arrested and prosecuted a police officer assigned to guard duty there.

The officer, Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores, was convicted and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison, despite his protestations that he was off duty and nowhere near the jail when Mario Amado died.

Last Friday, a three-judge panel in Mexicali overturned the conviction, maintaining that Mario Amado might have suffered fatal injuries while roller skating before his arrest or perhaps committed suicide. They upheld Verduzco's defense that, no matter what the cause of death, he was not in the jail at the time.

Mario Amado, a 29-year-old welder from North Hollywood, was vacationing in Rosarito, a beach resort just south of Tijuana, in June of 1992 when he was arrested for alleged drunk and disorderly conduct following a fight with his girlfriend. Two hours later he was found dead in his cell.

Although Rosarito police said he had hanged himself with his sweater, autopsies conducted at the insistence of Joe Amado indicated that Mario Amado had been strangled with a rope after a severe beating.

Joe Amado protested Tuesday that Verduzco is being shielded by a tightknit community of police officers in Mexico. "They back each other there," he said. "They have all the power. I thought I had beat them, but this just shows how deeply embedded the corruption is in Mexico."

Dolores Amado said her brother's death should send a message to Americans that despite highly publicized incidents of police brutality in the United States against Mexican immigrants, there is a greater potential for abuse of Americans across the border.

"People come here and get their hair pulled a little bit or get shoved by police," she said. "But my brother went over there to have a good time and ended up getting killed."

Joe Amado said that even if this last appeal to the Mexican federal courts fails, he will at least have won a moral victory by calling attention to his brother's death. "No matter what, I really will never have lost anything," he said. "Losing happens when you don't try."

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