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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Mother shot dead at anti-crime vigil in Chihuahua

Video shows the brazen killing outside the Chihuahua governor's office of a woman who had been protesting the freeing of the confessed killer in her daughter's 2008 slaying.
 

December 18, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — Outraged when judges freed the main suspect in her daughter's killing, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz launched a one-woman protest across the street from government offices in northern Mexico.

Now she is dead too.

In a brazen killing caught on video, a gunman chased Escobedo and shot her at close range Thursday night in front of the governor's office building in the capital of Chihuahua state.

The slaying drew condemnations from politicians and human rights activists and appeared to be fresh evidence of the impunity with which criminals operate across much of Mexico.

Amnesty International blamed "the negligence of state and federal authorities" for what it called reprisal attacks against activists and relatives of crime victims. "The deficiencies of the judicial system in cases of murdered women and girls have been demonstrated once again," the group said in a statement Friday.

Escobedo's 16-year-old daughter, Rubi Frayre, was slain and dismembered in 2008. The main suspect was her live-in boyfriend, Sergio Barraza, who was captured a year later in the state of Zacatecas.

Although Barraza confessed to the killing, he was exonerated in May by a three-judge panel that found insufficient evidence after a U.S.-style trial with oral arguments in the state capital, also called Chihuahua. Another court reversed the verdict, finding Barraza guilty, but he remains at large.

Escobedo loudly denounced the first court's ruling and has begged state authorities for justice. This month, she planted herself in front of the governor's office.

She had said she received threats from Barraza and his family but refused to hide.

"What's the government waiting for — that he come and finish me?" Escobedo said in an interview outside the governor's palace that was posted on a website. "Then let him kill me, but here in front to see if it makes them ashamed."

Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte said Escobedo had gathered evidence that Barraza was in Zacatecas with members of the Zetas drug gang. Authorities indicated that Barraza was a suspect in the mother's slaying.

Duarte said he would seek the removal of the three judges in the case and ask to have them stripped of immunity from possible prosecution.

"He confessed to the killing and reported the place where the remains of Mrs. Escobedo's daughter could be found. This is what no one can understand — the irresponsibility of these judges who set free a highly dangerous subject," Duarte said in a radio interview.

The video, aired on Mexican television, shows a man in dark clothing chasing Escobedo in the darkness as she sprints across the street toward the governor's office, which was closed at the time. Escobedo flops to the sidewalk as the shooter races to jump into a waiting sedan.

Chihuahua has been a pioneer in Mexico in rolling out a new system of trials, which resemble U.S. adversarial proceedings because prosecutors have to prove cases in open court.

The new system means tougher standards of evidence than under Mexico's traditional trials, which are decided behind closed doors by judges relying largely on written filings from both sides.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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