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2 arrested in American's slaying

October 18, 2008|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities said Friday that they had arrested two supporters of a protest movement in the fatal shooting of a U.S. videographer during violent street demonstrations in southern Mexico two years ago.

The announcement deepened the controversy over the Oct. 27, 2006, death of Bradley Roland Will, an activist and independent journalist who protesters allege was slain by government-supported gunmen.

The group that led the street protests in Oaxaca state said the two suspects are innocent, and human rights activists questioned the soundness of the investigation.

Will, 36, who worked for an Internet-based alternative news service known as the New York City Independent Media Center, was documenting a months-long teachers strike when clashes broke out between protesters and armed men. He was among a group of protesters and managed to film the tumult before he was shot.

Mexican federal prosecutors said Will was shot at close range by one of the suspects. The second man took part in a cover-up, authorities said.

From the start, protesters blamed Will's shooting on government-backed thugs. Since then, state and federal authorities have come under steady criticism by Will's supporters and Mexican rights activists who said the investigation was riddled with irregularities.

In presenting their case, officials said Will was shot once at a distance of about six feet and a second time from a range of six to 25 feet. By this theory, the only people close enough to Will were protest supporters.

A deputy prosecutor said they identified the alleged shooter based on witness statements.

"All agree in identifying the suspect as the person who was about two meters in distance from the victim," said the deputy prosecutor, Victor Emilio Corzo Cabanas.

Officials identified the suspected gunman as Juan Man- uel Martinez Moreno. The other arrested man, Octavio Perez Perez, and at least eight other people are accused of helping hide Martinez.

Both were supporters of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, known in Spanish as APPO. The group's leaders denied the allegations.

Amnesty International raised questions about the quality of the investigation. "These arrests appear once again to show the attorney general's determination to focus on APPO sympathizers as those responsible for the journalist's killing."

Will was covering protests that had escalated into a wider drive to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz, accused by critics of repressive rule.

Will taped a confrontation between protesters and a group of armed men in the community of Santa Lucia del Camino, outside Oaxaca city.

On the videotape, the sound of gunfire can be heard and a scream as Will is hit and the camera falls. "Help me!" a man's voice shouts in Spanish.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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