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Court Drops Charges in Slaying of U.S. Businessman in Mexico City

June 13, 1998| From a Times staff writer

Citing insufficient evidence, an appeals court in Mexico has thrown out charges against two men accused of killing a former Newport Beach real estate broker during a botched robbery last December.

The Thursday ruling in the slaying of Peter Zarate, who was shot to death in Mexico City after taking a taxi, caps a controversial series of rulings that have outraged the U.S. Embassy and a shaken U.S. business community.

Suspects Alfonso "El Chucky" Gonzalez and Victor "El Camaron" Mesa had signed confessions but later recanted, saying they were tortured by police. Both remain jailed on charges of robbing two Venezuelan tourists.

Judges who have ruled on the case four times since January said the confessions were contradictory and that prosecutors failed to provide corroborating evidence. The appellate panel that ruled Thursday agreed.

"If a confession is not accompanied by real evidence, that is not enough," said Judge Mauridio Dominguez Cruz.

However, Juan Sanchez, a spokesman for the city attorney's office in Mexico City, said, "All the evidence you could want is here."

Zarate, 40, a commercial real estate broker for New York-based Cushman & Wakefield Inc., transferred to Mexico City in 1993. Prosecutors said bandits jumped into his taxi in the upscale neighborhood of Polanco and shot him.

The killing stunned foreigners doing business in Mexico and underscored the insecurity in the capital, where assaults against executives have become increasingly common.

Thursday's ruling did nothing to appease Cushman & Wakefield, which still maintains a Mexico City office. "We're not surprised at all," said Arthur J. Mirante, president and chief executive officer.

Times researcher Brinley Bruton in Mexico City contributed to this story.

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