- Air Force cadets ‘revolt’ after officials remove biblical verse from whiteboard
- Rep. Lee: Paul Ryan out of touch with urban Americans
- House votes down resolution to force Issa to apologize
- Kremlin blocks opposition websites; Kasparov fears Putin plans ‘something drastic’
- Saving trees? EPA wastes $1.5 million storing unneeded pamphlets in warehouse
- Scott Brown Senate bid in New Hampshire may launch soon
- Jeffrey Corzine, son of ex-N.J. governor, dead at 31
- Australian surfing magazine sorry for calling indigenous surfer ‘apeish’
- Records: Man in Fla. theater shooting also was texting
- The Putin problem: U.S. needs Russian rockets for spy satellites
Film lays bare Mexico’s broken justice system
MEXICO CITY (AP) - Antonio Zuniga was minding his own business, walking through his Mexico City neighborhood, when police arrested him on charges of murdering a young gang member he had never seen. He was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence.
The story might have ended there if it hadn’t been for two determined lawyers armed with a video camera. They got the street vendor a retrial and, finally, acquittal by an appeals court thanks to the video they shot, which turned into a harrowing documentary that opens in Mexico on Friday in its first run in commercial theaters.
“Presumed Guilty,” which premiered two years ago at the Belfast Film Festival, has been shown in more than a dozen international festivals and on U.S. public television. It even won the best documentary category at Mexico’s own Morelia Film Festival in 2009.
But the film would have been almost forgotten in its home country if not for key members of Mexico’s entertainment elite, who promoted its commercial release at a moment when botched cases and legal abuses are causing public outrage.
“Indifference and ignorance are the major illnesses we’re experiencing,” said Diego Luna, the Mexican actor and director who has used his Hollywood star power to promote the documentary. “We’ve learned to live with injustice and move on as if nothing were wrong.”
“Presumed Guilty” offers a rare front-row look into Mexico’s secretive court system, which places the burden of proof on defendants. Trials conducted largely on paper offer no chance for public scrutiny. Critics say this results in a system in which innocent are jailed and criminals go free.
Lawyers Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete won a retrial for Zuniga when they found that his original defense attorney lacked a valid license to practice law, and they got the judge’s approval to film the proceedings.
The film shows that police had no physical evidence against Zuniga. Tests found no gunpowder residue on his hands.
And several witnesses saw Zuniga selling video games at his stand in a street market at the time of the 2005 slaying, miles (kilometers) away from the rough borough of Iztapalapa where the killing occurred. But their testimony was not allowed in court.
In one of the most powerful scenes, the key witness to the killing, the victim’s cousin, acknowledges he never saw Zuniga fire a shot. He insists Zuniga was present along three members of a rival gang who confronted him and his cousin. But while he describes each of the three gang members physically, he is unable to describe Zuniga.
In fact, the teenage witness failed to mention Zuniga’s presence at all in his initial testimony to police on the day of the killing.
But the judge, the same one who presided over the first trial, upheld the conviction.
“It was like being in a bizarre world where everything is upside down,” said Zuniga, a 31-year-old who repairs video game consoles for a living and dabbles in rap and break dancing.
The 90-minute documentary also shows glimpses of Zuniga’s life in prison, where he shared a tiny cell with 20 inmates and slept on a concrete floor under a cabinet with only a blanket.
Zuniga finally was acquitted by an appeals court in 2008 after his lawyers showed the panel of three judges the video of his retrial. He was released after nearly two years and four months in prison.
TWT Video Picks
By Emily Miller
Obama is losing the debate on gun ownership, concealed-carry permits
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- NRA shirt gets N.Y. high school student suspended
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Oil rig worker says he saw missing plane go down: report
- Senators reach deal on unemployment benefits
- Ben Carson: America's now 'very much like Nazi Germany'
- Kerry warns of 'very serious' response to Crimea-Russia alliance
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again