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Authorities in Mexico say they've solved teen's slaying -- again

Federal police say two members of a gang have confessed to kidnapping and killing Fernando Marti, 14, last year. But Mexico City officials had previously identified a separate group of suspects.

July 18, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

MEXICO CITY — Mexican federal police said Friday that they had cracked the country's most publicized crime of the last year: the kidnapping and killing of 14-year-old Fernando Marti.

Authorities paraded two suspects they said had confessed to having roles in the abduction, which ignited huge anti-crime marches throughout Mexico after the boy's bullet-riddled body was found Aug. 1 in the trunk of a stolen Chevy. Officials linked the suspects to the kidnappings of 23 people and showed pictures of the grimy Mexico City safe houses where the gang allegedly held its captives.

But wait.

A separate band of alleged kidnappers is already in custody in the case, arrested last year by Mexico City police and likewise paraded by city authorities with a note of triumph. With the newest arrests, law enforcement officials appeared to have solved the Marti case -- again.

In a nation where residents have little confidence in police, the latest wrinkle in the high-profile mystery could represent an investigative breakthrough. Or it might turn out to be another embarrassing blow to the image of law enforcement.

Anti-crime activists asked Mexico City officials for clarification. Citizens were left to figure out whether anyone involved in the case got it right.

Fernando Marti, the son of the founders of a major sporting goods chain, was killed even after his parents paid millions of dollars in ransom.

Alejandro Marti, who has become an unofficial spokesman for millions of Mexicans fed up with kidnapping and other crime, said he did not want his son's case to become politicized and urged the two sides to work together.

The competing accounts appear hard to reconcile. Federal police said their two suspects, arrested Thursday in Mexico City, belonged to the so-called Petriciolet gang, whose alleged leader, Abel Silva Petriciolet, is at large. Last summer, Mexico City officials identified a separate gang, La Flor, as being responsible.

Authorities said the Petriciolet gang has kidnapped 23 people in and around Mexico in the last six years, capturing its victims by setting up fake police checkpoints.

The kidnappers targeted businessmen or their children and typically killed by drugging the victims' food and suffocating them, then dumped the bodies in stolen vehicles, police said. Officials said the group was responsible for Fernando's death and at least seven others, including those of a driver, a bodyguard and a 16-year-old boy, Antonio Equihua.

"This criminal organization is considered one of the most violent," the federal public safety ministry said.

Noe Robles Hernandez, 31, confessed to killing Fernando, federal police said, while 34-year-old Jose Montiel Cardozo allegedly watched over captives.

Federal officials said Fernando's driver, who was kidnapped with the boy but survived, recognized an alleged safe house. Police freed two people there Thursday after someone reported a separate kidnapping. Federal officials distributed photos of two alleged safe houses with bare rooms and paper taped over the windows.

Mexico City's prosecutor, Miguel Mancera, praised the arrests by his federal colleagues, but said his case against his own set of suspects was solid.

"It's not a whim of the authorities to have taken these people to trial, but rather the testimony of victims who were kidnapped," Mancera said in a radio interview.

He said that among his witnesses was one of Alejandro Marti's bodyguards.

Local authorities claimed a breakthrough in the case last fall, when they announced arrests of seven members of the La Flor kidnapping gang.

The leader, they said, was Sergio Ortiz, a former police agent who allegedly prowled high-end gyms and private clubs for well-heeled targets. A second alleged member, Lorena Gonzalez, was a federal agent.

On Friday, Mancera seemed to look for room for both sides to come out right. He said he wanted to question the federal suspects for possible leads in his own case, which ties La Flor to the kidnapping but does not pinpoint a killer.

He suggested the two cases might be related, though he said he had never heard of the Petriciolet gang.

Robles, the main federal suspect, said in his videotaped confession that the alleged members of La Flor who were shown on television had nothing to do with Fernando's kidnapping.

"There are cells that are very big," Mancera said. "The important part obviously [is] that there is a solid sentence and that they pay for what they have done."

--

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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