CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Gunmen killed a mother who had been protesting for three days in front of a governor's office in northern Mexico to demand justice for her slain daughter, authorities said Friday.
The brutal killing of activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz stunned people across Mexico, and a group of women angrily demanding justice gathered outside the state prosecutors' office in this border city, where the victim's daughter was killed.
Escobedo's slaying "shows that in Mexico, it is the victim who suffers," anti-crime activist Alejandro Marti said.
The uproar resulted in the suspension of three state judges who had ordered the freeing of the main suspect in the slaying of Escobedo Ortiz's daughter – the same man who was identified as a chief suspect in the mother's death.
The vicious nature of the killing – which was caught on a security camera and broadcast repeatedly on national television – added to the anger. The video shows masked men pull up in a car Thursday night in front of the governor's office in Chihuahua city, the capital of Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located.
One man appeared to exchange words with and Escobedo Ortiz, who tried to flee by running across the street. The gunman chased her down and shot her in the head, said Jorge Gonzalez, special state prosecutor for crime prevention.
A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, Carlos Gonzalez, said investigators believe one of the gunmen was Sergio Barraza, who had been the main suspect in the killing of Escobedo's 17-year-old daughter. He was absolved by a court in April for lack of evidence.
Escobedo was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died within minutes.
She had been campaigning for a conviction in the killing of her daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo, whose burned and dismembered remains were found in a trash bin in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on June 18, 2009. She had been missing for nearly a year.
Escobedo had staged numerous marches, once wearing no clothes, wrapped only in a banner with her daughter's photograph.
"This struggle is not only for my daughter," Escobedo said then through a megaphone, her voice breaking. "Let's not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city."
Three days ago, Escobedo planted herself in front of the offices of Gov. Cesar Duarte and vowed not to move until investigators showed progress in the case. In an interview with the newspaper El Diario on Sunday, Escobedo said she had received death threats from Barraza's family.
Duarte said state security officials had been assigned to protect Escobedo, although from a distance. He said their failure to protect Escobedo on Thursday would be investigated.
Duarte had also called on the state's top court to suspend three judges who had acquitted Barraza. Later, the court's president, Javier Ramirez Benitez, said the three judges would be suspended while they were investigated for any possible wrongdoing. Ramirez Benitez said an oversight commission had found earlier this year that the case was improperly handled.
Prosecutors said Barraza, Frayre's live-in boyfriend, admitted murdering her and led police to the body. But during the trial, he proclaimed his innocence and claimed he had been tortured into confessing. One of the judges ruled in April that prosecutors failed to present material evidence against him.
The case exemplifies the problems of the judicial system in Chihuahua state, one of the first in Mexico to adopt oral trials instead of the system of closed-door interrogations and filings of documents used for most Mexican trials.
Despite training, Chihuahua police and prosecutors have struggled to adapt to a system that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors. Many homicide cases have been thrown out for lack of evidence or never make it to trial. Often, police rely solely on confessions that suspects later claim were made under duress. Newly captured suspects in much of Mexico are often displayed to the press with bruised faces.
Duarte, however, accused the court of wrongly releasing Barraza. He said he has requested that the Chihuahua judiciary fire the three judges who presided over the case and that the state legislature strip the judges of their immunity from prosecution so they can be charged with abuse of power.
In Ciudad Juarez, where Frayre was killed, police have overwhelmed by drug gang battles that have made city one of the world's deadliest. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the city of 1.3 million this year alone.
Records obtained by The Associated Press show that last year, when 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors filed 93 homicide cases and got 19 convictions.
Chihuahua's judicial deficiencies go back years before the new system was implemented, or before drug-gang violence soared to unprecedented levels.
In the 1990s, hundreds of women were killed around Ciudad Juarez, with about 100 sexually assaulted and dumped in the desert.