Mexico: Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno Released From Prison for (Not) Killing Brad Will


Death threats against him and his family speak to the government’s weakness



1. Crime and Punishment

The face of Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno on the day he finally gained release from the infamous prison of Ixcotel showed fear overlaid with joy. On February 18, 2010 he stepped free into the tearful embraces of his wife, children and sister; of a crowd comprised of Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE, in its Spanish initials)[i] led by its Secretary General Aziel Santiago Chepi; of well-wishers; and of journalists. The emotional group marched out Ixcotel , the front line stretching across the road with Martínez Moreno in the center, his arms linked with that of his wife on one side and Santiago Chepi on the other.

From the prison the crowd arrived at the bandstand gazebo in front of the museum-municipal palace in Oaxaca center city. Martínez Moreno, along that entire four mile route, walked exposed to the eyes and weapons of whomever really murdered Bradley Roland Will in October of 2006 at the site of the Calicanto barricade. After Martínez Moreno refused to confess under torture to Will’s murder, or accept a pay-off of cash or jobs to keep quiet about his innocence, threats have been made against him, his wife Liliana Tejada, and his three young children. The family’s fear finally drove them out of their home and into hiding two weeks after his release.

On March 1, 2010 the judge of the Fourth State Criminal Court of Oaxaca issued a new notice of arrest. “New evidence” had been brought forward, in the form of a Televisa video which shows, in a crowd of barricade people, the possible presence of Martínez Moreno. In spite of the legal exoneration issued by the Fifth District Federal Judicial Court (PJF) on February 23 , Judge Salvador Cordero Colmenares of the Fourth Criminal Court of the state, responsible for bringing the original murder charge, admitted fresh evidence and intent to prosecute for covering up evidence, denounced Martínez Moreno’s legal defender Gilberto López Jiménez.

In a press conference, with Martínez More­no accompanied by his sister Libia Martínez More­no, the defense lawyer pointed out that the PJF signed the end of prosecution of the activist on February 18, and in consequence, the judge could not accept any further evidence because the law forbids it, that is, forbids repeatedly introducing new evidence for the same crime. Nevertheless, the judge loosened the law and accepted “expert evidence” from the office of the Attorney General (AG) for Justice of the State of Mexico: a video handed to the Mexican AG by Televisa, without notifying the defense. López Jiménez indicated that Judge Cordero Colmenares “says he observes the resolution (freeing Martínez Moreno), but does not inform us of who accepted and initiated a shameless presentation of new evidence…But the worst of all, they tried to get us to sign a notification with a date on it of February 24, to make it look like we agreed and that they are following the law.”

The official of the AG’s office for the State of Mexico had concluded “that the person who appears in this video very probably is Juan Manuel Martínez Mo­reno. Thus he tried to justify a new detention, but (the trick) is now exposed,” said the defense lawyer who emphasized that Judge Cordero Colmenares, by accepting and acting on new evidence, violates the Law of Protection, and in consequence could himself be subjected to penal prosecution. The defense will solicit the Fifth Court of the PJF District to dismiss Judge Cordero Colmenares from his court duties.

Martínez Mo­reno’s life lies in shambles, since he is not employed, his children cannot attend school, and his family receives constant threats. Nevertheless he remains true to his commitment to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), whose basic premise is that everyone should directly participate in their common governance. Although the formal structure of the APPO has dissipated, the premise remains and grows around the state of Oaxaca which witnesses incremental gains, town by town, as people organize and network. The work and spirit of the APPO is why Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno was selected as a scapegoat for murder. The present threats signify 2010 is an election year.

Brad Will, a USA citizen from Evanston, Illinois reported for Indymedia. He came to Oaxaca in 2006 to document the struggle for popular participation and the expected ousting of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO). On October 27 in the town of Santa Lucia del Camino, a town controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials), violence broke out. Will, a tall lanky guy with much curiosity and little fear — some would say little sense of self-preservation — at the time of his death was filming from a spot in front of the barricade raised in the neighborhood of Calicanto by APPO activists. Will’s video camera recorded everything: at a certain moment one can see running toward the APPO crowd two or three men, the two in front clearly holding weapons, a heavy-bellied man in a red shirt pointing his revolver. And then the camera rotates as Will falls. The next photos available are still-camera shots showing people surrounding Will’s body lying on the ground. His pants had been pulled down trying to ascertain where he was hit: a fatal abdominal wound. Subsequent photos show men carrying him, two at his arms and two at his legs to a private vehicle, hoping to get him to a hospital.

During the same day, Professor Emilio Alonso Fabián, community members Esteban López Zurita and Eudasia Olivera Díaz were also murdered. More than twenty-three persons suffered gunshots that day, among them other reporters. There is no reason to suppose that Will had been singled out, or tracked and followed. He was just there, a journalist and witness.

Immediate information about the assassination indicated Will had been shot at by Abel Santiago Zárate, registrar of the municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino, as well as by Oswaldo Manuel Aguilar Coello, a municipal police officer. Both have strong links to the local PRI. The Attorney General for Justice of the state of Oaxaca initiated against them investigation 1247/C.R./2006. On November 2, 2006, Santiago Zárate and Aguilar Coello were arrested. Although the Mixed Court of the First Instance of Etla judged them responsible for Will’s death, a few weeks later they were freed.[ii]

Later, the Attorney General of the Republic was charged with investigating the facts. The case was sent to the Special Prosecutors Office to the Attention of Crimes Committed Against Journalists, and filed as number 11/FEADP/07. Far from investigating in depth, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office accepted the hypothesis spread on November 15, 2006 by the Attorney General for Oaxaca, Lizbeth Caño. Backed by her boss Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), she maintained that Will was murdered by members of the APPO who surrounded him. Martínez Moreno was arrested on October 16, 2008, two years after Will’s death; on the 22nd the Fourth Judge of the Criminal Court of Oaxaca issued a formal charge carrying a penalty of forty years in prison.

2. The international struggle for justice

At this time the United States was contemplating funding the Plan Merida transnational corridor. The USA could not give funds to Mexico in the face of American parents whose son had been murdered, with no indication of justice forthcoming. Alba Cruz, a member of the Committee of Liberation November 25 and one of Martínez Moreno’s lawyers, mentions that “curiously Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno was arrested forty-eight hours before the close of the period of 120 days which the USA congress had set for the State Department to present a credible report regarding the investigation of the assassination of the journalist. Furthermore, capture of Martínez Moreno was carried out three days after the visit to Mexico made by the secretary of State Condoleezza Rice”.

Impunity in Oaxaca, and one might add in all of Mexico, constitutes an ongoing political embarrassment. The federal government’s solution called for a scapegoat to be named, and that scapegoat was the APPO activist resident in Santa Lucia del Camino, Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno. According to sources at the event, Martínez Moreno stood in the crowd behind Will. That, in all likelihood, is what shows in the Televisa video. The APPO people were unarmed; for their defense they normally carry sticks and tubes. However, neither of the state’s “witnesses” claim to have seen Martínez Moreno at all. The government prosecution asserted that Will was shot twice, once from a distance and the second time from the side at close range, with an interval of half an hour, and suggested that the second shot was fired after the APPO men carried Will away from the scene.

The Will family, shortly after the release of the two PRI shooters, employed Miguel Angel De Los Santos as their lawyer and called on the Oaxaca government to conduct an honest investigation. Along with the USA committee which formed around the issue, they supported the innocence of Martínez Moreno. The committee, called Friends of Brad Will, pushed for participation by outsiders such as Amnesty International, the International Commission for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights.

Assisting Martínez Moreno, lawyers headed by Alba Cruz were funded by The Committee November 25, and Section 22 of SNTE. The committee is comprised of former prisoners, survivors of the Oaxaca November 25, 2006 repression which left lasting physical and emotional scars on hundreds. Thus with lines drawn, months of endless rhetoric ensued, due not to defense ineptitude but to the prolongation of the legal case on the part of the Oaxaca government. The process stretched interminably; one supposes that the state and federal governments, each with its necessity to offer up a criminal, hoped Martínez Moreno’s case would fall out of the public eye. At the very least, monies from the USA for Plan Merida would be released in the interval following Martínez Moreno’s arrest.

The defense plodded ahead, procedure after procedure. There were six hearings altogether. A breakthrough finally occurred. At the hearing February 29, 2008 (Mexico does not have a jury system) the prosecution’s two key witnesses, Alfredo Feria Pérez and Karol Iván Ilescas Resendiz, were called to testify in support of the facts offered by the PGR and the PGJO. The first man is connected to PRI groups of the Municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino; his uncle is the former Municipal President. The second man was a reporter from Televisa.

When Feria Pérez testified in February, 2008 he did not mention Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno. Nor did he indicate him on his second declaration of July 4, 2008. Specifically asked if he knew who shot Brad Will, Feria Pérez replied, “I do not know the identity of that person because I did not see him…as I told you before I did not see when they shot Bradley Roland Will…” Karol Iván Ilescas merely repeated hearsay testimony: he heard a shot, he saw Will on the ground, and later was told that the shooter was an APPO activist.

Expert evidence acquired more importance. At the behest of the Will family a scientific forensic investigation had been carried out by investigators from the international organization Physicians for Human Rights. Inspection of the extracted bullet showed that Will had been hit by a projectile which ricocheted off something red, most probably a red vehicle, leaving traces of paint. Their investigation concluded that… “between the detonation of the murder weapon and the impact of the fired projectile, a time period passed of 166 milliseconds, the time in which a fired projectile with characteristics of the one that killed Brad Will (.38 special) traveled an average of 42. 5 meters, a fact from which it follows that the shooter was located behind the red overturned van.” The report stresses that the two wounds followed successively, sequentially, immediately, in a millisecond and not with a space of 30 minutes between one and the other, as the PGR claimed.

Thus the investigation presented by the PGR with the PGJO collapsed; not supported by any witnesses and contradicted by the experts’ reports carried out by the International Forensic Program from Physicians for Human Rights.

Even while the Will family was doing everything possible to help, paranoia among the social movement spread. That is certainly part of the government’s game: to create unspecific fears. On the 26th of September, 2008 the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) issued recommendation 050/2008 in which they indicated that fundamental rights were violated as to law, juridical security, access to justice, and to information contained in the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico and in the local Constitution of the State of Oaxaca. The NCHR’s final observations state: “that the aforementioned authorities did not identify nor locate the three witnesses who affirmed at the time to have seen the municipal police of Santa Lucía del Camino who killed Bradley Roland Will.” Investigative failures, irregularities, and contradictions became more evident. Oaxaca’s reality and the fierceness of URO’s grip on power stood naked.

The hearings went on. The Judge of the Fifth District considered the sum of irregularities and deemed the process and the imprisonment unconstitutional. Nevertheless, he failed to resolve the case completely; instead he sent to the Fourth Criminal Court an instruction to “correct its deficiencies in regard to the basis and motivation of the act appealed, by virtue of which the court statement of the 22nd of October of 2008 was a violation of the guarantees of judicial and legal security”. In this context, freedom seemed in the offing. It took another nine months.

Miguel De Los Santos presented a succinct recounting of that series of irregularities carried out by officials; it was printed in a small booklet, Justicia parcial. He condemned deficient investigation procedures on the part of both local and federal public ministries, since they discarded a priori many lines of investigation, putting to one side the circumstances and proofs which could have clarified the facts; they failed to protect the site of the crime; they failed to send the Public Minister of the state of Oaxaca to the scene until four days later; and they failed to carry out adequate accumulation, classification and preservation of evidence, among other lapses. The next defense step was the Supreme Court tribunal to review the improprieties in the case. The Supreme Court comprised of three judges agreed. Once again the case went back to the lower court. Some days of delay followed while the judge stalled, but finally Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno was free, after sixteen months in prison.

3. Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno

Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno, 35 years old, born in the City of Oaxaca, comes from a simple family. He attended primary and secondary school but then left to help supplement the family income. He held various jobs, and eventually became a baker, the job at which he worked on the day of Will’s murder. Martínez Moreno participated actively in community life in the Municipality of Santa Lucía del Camino, principally through its parish; he was known to his neighbors who invited him to work in the Registry of Education (Regiduria de Educación), in the Sports Area of the Municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino. Until he was accused of the murder of Brad Will, Martínez Moreno never had been criminally prosecuted. He’s married and has three children.

When Martínez Moreno was interviewed after his release from prison, his face showed his fear and remembered pain. He spoke of his present concern: political prisoners around the state. He does not forget his own imprisonment and torture. He described his initial three days in Ixcotel, held in a tomb with no food, water or bathroom facility. During his months in prison he was tortured to sign a confession to the shooting of Will. But when the government ploy ran out of steam, and it became likely that he would be released after all, he was approached inside the prison by PRI agents who offered him bribes to remain silent. According to Martínez Moreno, he was even offered the position of municipal president of Santa Lucia del Camino— presumably by those capable of handing him the position.

The Mexican penal process is antique, a baroque compilation made worse by control of the judiciary by the executive. More to the point, the persecution of Martínez Moreno has to do with authoritarian control over a population by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, which has ruled Oaxaca for eighty years. Its governance partakes in equal parts of keeping people poor and ignorant; murders, bribes, and domination by caciques who repress hints of opposition among the population. 2010 will surely be a test year for the PRI, and whereas the president of Mexico backed URO in the repression of 2006, that will not happen now. In Oaxaca the PRI has been isolated by an electoral coalition in opposition which includes the president’s own party.

Martínez Moreno fears assassination. The court retained all his papers, school records, voting credential and other documents necessary to work or move freely. His fear has been compounded by worry for his wife and children. The “recovered” video footage of Televisa presented an opportunity for the court to name activists in the crowd on the day of Will’s death, and suggest that arrests will be made, including that of Martínez Moreno. Amid frantic clamor, lawyers reject that anyone can be imprisoned for covering up a crime of which nobody is guilty. This Oaxaca court serves terror, not justice.


[i] In May of 2006, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union ( Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) began the moblizations which year after year it carries out with the goal of expressing the union demands of the teachers of Oaxaca. Nevertheless, the government of the State opted to not open the channels of discussion and on June 14 tried to violently eject the teachers who remained encamped in t he center of the capital. That act provoked the response of the teachers unión, with the aid of some civil and social organizations in Oaxaca. In this framework, between the 17th and the 21st of June the Populist Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaxa (APPO) formally constituted itself, made up of more than 300 civil and social organizations, a space into which flowed the general discontent with the political and social situation of the state, which manifested itself in the common demand for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz.

[ii] for information read Justicia parcial : La irregular acusación en contra de Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno CASO BRADLEY ROLAND WILL, Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez