Courts & Crime

Videotaped killing of grieving Mexican mother stirs a nation

MEXICO CITY — A mother campaigning to bring the confessed killer of her 16-year-old daughter to justice was herself gunned down Thursday night in view of a closed circuit television camera, leaving images that shocked Mexicans over the impunity of the killers.

The murder of Marisela Escobedo unfolded Thursday night on the sidewalk in front of the governor's palace in the capital of Chihuahua state.

Escobedo, a retired nurse, was at a protest booth in the main plaza across the street demanding that the man who confessed to killing her daughter and dismembering her body in 2008 be hunted down.

A closed-circuit camera captured the 20 seconds or so at 8:10 p.m. when a man got out of a white Volkswagen Jetta and approached Escobedo in the square. Frightened by him, Escobedo ran across the street, dodging busy traffic, the assailant only footsteps behind her. He shot her with a 9mm pistol in the head at the entrance to the governor's palace.

The video shows the killer running back across the street and getting in the waiting car, which pulled away.

The brazen hit of a grieving mother — in the capital of a state renowned for hundreds of murders of women and girls — sparked condemnation from within Mexico and from abroad.

"The death of Marisela adds to the long list of women murdered in Chihuahua," Norma Ledezma, head of Justice for Our Daughters, said through sobs in a telephone interview moments before a Friday march through Chihuahua City.

United Nations human rights delegate for Mexico Javier Hernandez Valencia issued a statement describing the killing as "devastating and causing indignation," and exhorted Mexico to take action to halt "overwhelming violence that looms over women."

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, called Escobedo a "tireless fighter for justice for her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre" and said the mother had become emblematic of women fruitlessly seeking justice for murders in Chihuahua state, which borders Texas and New Mexico.

"Once again, the negligence of federal and state authorities to prevent and punish violence against women in Chihuahua has left relatives and human rights organizations to suffer reprisals for their efforts for truth and justice," the group said.

After Escobedo's daughter disappeared in August 2008, her live-in boyfriend fled the state. Nearly a year later, the mother located the boyfriend, Sergio Rafael Barraza, in nearby Zacatecas state, leading investigators to him. Barraza later confessed and identified the site where he'd buried the girl after killing her.

In April of this year, a three-judge panel acquitted Barraza of the murder despite his confession, freeing him. After complaints from then-Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza, an appeals court overturned the verdict and instated a 50-year jail term.

Prosecutors made little effort to find the fugitive, leaving Escobedo herself to track down him down once again. She did so, and led a law enforcement unit in July to Zacatecas, a state to the southeast. But Barraza escaped again.

Gov. Cesar Duarte, who succeeded Reyes Baeza, told reporters Friday that Barraza had joined the criminal syndicate known as Los Zetas. Duarte said he is "absolutely sure" that Barraza was behind Thursday night's killing of the mother.

The 52-year-old Escobedo had grown so deeply distrustful of authorities to bring Barraza to justice that she refused to accept bodyguards offered to her.

She was in the tree-studded main plaza of the city, near a parked white truck plastered with photos of her slain daughter and posters demanding justice.

Inside the truck, according to Ledezma, the daughter of Rubi Marisol (Escobedo's granddaughter) rested with an aunt. Ledezma said she thinks the killer waited until after 8 p.m. — when the huge wooden doors of the governor's palace close for the evening — to drive by, get out and gun her down.

Amid a national outcry around the new murder, Duarte said he had asked the state supreme court to remove the three judges who acquitted Barraza and open a criminal investigation against them.

Last Saturday, Escobedo had told reporters that family and friends of Barraza had made death threats against her.

"If they are going to kill me, let them do it right here to shame the government," she said in a challenge that tragically was fulfilled.

Since 1993, a string of brutal murders has afflicted Chihuahua, continuing past 2003 when the federal government created units to prosecute the killers. News reports put the tally from the killing spree as high as 1,000 women and girls.

In separate news, a car bomb exploded in front of a police station in the town of Zuazua in Nuevo Leon state, causing extensive damage and injuring two people, state security spokesman Jorge Domene told the Milenio television network.

Drug gangs, which began employing car bombs in July, are locked in a fierce turf war in the surrounding region.


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