Thursday, November 19, 2009

Puerto Rico murder may be prosecuted as hate crime

Puerto Rican police have charged 26-year-old Juan Martinez Matos in the murder and mutilation of 19-year-old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado this past weekend. Martinez told police that he killed Lopez after discovering he was a man. Martinez said that he had approached Lopez for sex under the impression that Lopez was a woman.

Martinez is in jail under a $4 million bond. So far, the government has charged him with first-degree murder and weapons violations. LGBT activists and at least two New York congressional representatives are pushing law enforcement to try the case under Puerto Rico's 2002 hate crimes law, which has not been applied in the at least 10 anti-gay slayings that have occurred in the U.S. territory since its passage, according to Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY), who was born in Puerto Rico, released this statement Tuesday about the murder:

“I strongly condemn this horrible crime and urge that it be treated as the heinous hate-crime that it is. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to address just this type of offense. I urge the federal government to provide Puerto Rican authorities with assistance in this investigation. The parties responsible must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of either Puerto Rican law or our new federal hate crimes laws.

“I am particularly troubled by the alleged comments of one of the police investigators of this terrible act. Our justice system and our law enforcement officials should never allow their personal biases to interfere in their work investigating and enforcing the law.

“Gay teens in Puerto Rico, like gay teens anywhere, must be able to live in peace and feel safe in their communities. As a tolerant society, we must be vigilant about the rights of all and always ensure that the law is on the side of the vulnerable and the victimized.”


Some additional articles:
Murder charge filed in Puerto Rico teen slaying - Associated Press
Activists, politicians, urge Puerto Rican authorities to prosecute López murder as hate crime - Edge

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