- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

MEXICO CITY — A prosecutor has ignited a furor by ruling as a suicide the 2001 death of a human rights lawyer who had bullet wounds in the head and thigh, with an anonymous note threatening retribution against other human rights workers found nearby.

A .22 caliber bullet through the temple killed Digna Ochoa, found dead in her Mexico City office Oct. 19, 2001. Of that there is no doubt.

But confounding clues at the scene, the sensitive nature of Miss Ochoa’s work and the case’s high-voltage political character leave considerable ambiguity about who pulled the trigger.

Special prosecutor Margarita Guerra, who submitted her report to the Mexico City district attorney Saturday, says the case is closed.

But Miss Ochoa’s family and human rights experts call it another reminder of the callous and convenient administration of justice typical of Mexico.

“This is the easy solution. They don’t have to admit that they couldn’t find the murderer,” said Pilar Noriega, a friend of Miss Ochoa who works at the Mexico City Human Rights Commission.

This is not the first high-profile case in Mexico that has triggered widespread doubt. A decade ago, three separate murders, of political party boss Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas and presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, shook the nation. None of the murders was solved, although several politically unconnected suspects were hastily charged.

“The way they managed this and other cases leaves the door open for blatant impunity in the justice system throughout Mexico,” Ms. Noriega said.

Mrs. Guerra, the second prosecutor to work the Ochoa case, concluded that the gun was Miss Ochoa’s and that there were no signs of struggle or forced entry. She also suggests that a gunshot wound in Miss Ochoa’s thigh was an attempt at perforating the femoral artery, and that a note found at the scene threatening human rights workers may have been fabricated.

At the crux of Mrs. Guerra’s thesis is that Miss Ochoa, then 38, was mentally ill. Miss Ochoa “presented schizotypal personality disorder, with marked paranoid streaks. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Chronic depression,” Mrs. Guerra wrote.

Miss Ochoa’s friends deny the assertion, saying she was “radiant” prior to her death, with a new boyfriend and plenty of work. Instead, they suggest it was precisely her work that got her killed. Miss Ochoa had been helping peasants in rural Guerrero state, where the Mexican army as well as several local community leaders were selling off their land for logging. Some suggest the military, or the community leaders, could have had Miss Ochoa killed.

The Ochoa family’s attorney, Jose Antonio Becerril, who called the insanity assertion “defamatory,” said he will appeal the prosecutor’s findings.

“Mexican investigations are all about investigating the victim,” and not culprits, said Laurie Freeman, a Mexico specialist for the Washington Office on Latin America.

It’s a tactic, human rights experts say, employed in the investigation of the more than 300 dead women of Ciudad Juarez, where authorities have made disparaging comments about the clothing lifestyle of the victims, who are often raped and mutilated. Last week, 300 federal police sent to Juarez were greeted by angry mothers of victims, demanding real justice. Since the killing began a decade ago, one man has been convicted for a single murder.

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