MEXICO CITY — A Mexican federal judge absolved a man of charges he tried to assassinate a crusading investigative journalist in 1997, a press freedom group said Friday.
Marco Quinones Sanchez was found not guilty of carrying out a shooting attack that badly wounded Jesus Blancornelas, founder of Tijuana's Zeta magazine. Blancornelas' bodyguard was killed in the attack, but the judge also absolved Quinones of that murder.
The New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists sent the court's ruling to The Associated Press Friday after editors of the U.S.-Mexico border city weekly were notified. The ruling was on Aug. 26.
Quinones, also known as "El Pato," was arrested in 2003, and authorities at the time said he was a hit man for the Tijuana Cartel's Arellano Felix brothers. The court didn't explain why it absolved Quinones, but it clarified that he will remain in prison to serve out a 12-year sentence for organized crime.
Prosecutors accused Quinones of trying to kill Blancornelas as retaliation for his investigations into drug trafficking and how the kingpins infiltrated the government in the border region.
Carlos Lauria, Americas director of the committee, said the verdict sets a bad precedent in a country that fails to punish attacks against the press.
"It highlights the dismal impunity record that Mexico has in the killing of journalists," Lauria said. "It's really outrageous."
Press-freedom groups have called Mexico one of the most dangerous countries for reporters. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists have been killed since 1994.
The Zeta magazine did not respond to a request for comment. The publication is well-respected and admired for its brave reporting, chronicling the rise and decline of the Arellano Felix family, one of Mexico's oldest drug cartels. In other areas of Mexico, newspapers have chosen to censor themselves after grenade attacks on their buildings and threats on their reporters.
The man who helped Blancornelas start up the weekly, Hector Felix Miranda, was shot to death in 1988. An assistant editor, Francisco Ortiz, was killed in a 2004 attack.
Blancornelas, winner of several international journalism prizes, stepped down in April 2006 as the weekly's director, saying he had grown too old to run the publication. He was 70 when he died in November of that year of a chronic illness, possibly related to a lung defect.