Mexican feds refuse to take over border killings case
Flawed investigation by local police cited
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- State prosecutors have long said that 88
women found dead in the desert outside this rough border city were
killed by a gang of criminals working with bus drivers. But few people in
Ciudad Juarez believed them, least of all the mothers of the victims.
Now, the federal government has formally declined activists' requests to
the state of Chihuahua's decade-long investigation, saying they also believe there is
little evidence of a conspiracy.
Under Mexican law, federal investigators can only take over murder investigations
they involve federal offenses like drugs, weapons possession, organized crime, and
Federal Assistant Attorney General Carlos Vega said there was nothing to
the state of Chihuahua's theory that an Egyptian-born chemist, gang members and
bus drivers planned the murders.
"We didn't see anything to support that," he said.
The decision was a blow to lawmakers, relatives of victims and other activists
have long criticized state investigators as inept. Even state investigators admit they
need help and have openly turned to the expertise of FBI officials.
After reviewing 30 case files, federal officials announced Thursday they
evidence to substantiate the state's theory that more tha n one person is involved,
and they refused to take over the cases.
The bodies of at least 88 young women -- mainly slender, long-haired, and
the ages of 15 and 20 -- have turned up in the desert in the past decade. All appear
to have been raped, and had either been strangled or had their necks broken.
Several suspects have been arrested in the killings but just one conviction.
Egyptian-born chemist Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif was found guilty in one of the earliest
murders and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Under the conspiracy theory, Sharif allegedly paid members of a gang known
Rebels to continue the killings after he was arrested to show someone else was the
killer. However, no evidence of such payments has ever surfaced. Other Rebel
members then allegedly contacted a group of bus drivers and asked them to carry
All of the suspects arrested in the cases allegedly had some connection
or the Rebels, and almost all have said they were tortured into signing confessions.
Many have been held in jail for as long as six years pending trial, even as the bodies
of young women continue to turn up in the desert.
Despite the federal decision, local prosecutors say they'll continue the probe.
"It is very probable that the latest murders are the work of a new wing
of the very
same group," said Chihuahua state special prosecutor Angela Talavera, referring to
the murder of three girls whose bodies were found near a gravel pit in February.
Talavera conceded the conspiracy theory may sound bizarre, but she said:
case, the things that appear most unlikely, almost taken from a movie script, turn out
to be true."
She said that the federal prosecutors' objections to the conspiracy theory
just an excuse."
The theory doesn't convince Benita Monarrez, whose daughter Laura B. Ramos
Monarrez was killed in 2001 and her body dumped along with those of seven other
women in a vacant lot.
She described a police videotape of the confessions of two suspects arrested
daughter's killing as "childish and insulting." The video shows the two men -- one of
whom died earlier this year in police custody under suspicious circumstances _
woodenly reciting the full names, ages and dress of each of the victims.
"Who can believe this? Either the (police) are playing a cat-and-mouse
game, or they
are protecting someone who has power or money," Monarrez said.
With little hope of help from local police, residents have taken matters
into their own
Activists and parents have set up "safe houses" and organized pink "women
bus services as well as informal buddy programs so women don't walk alone. Many
victims have disappeared while traveling to work or school, and some were allegedly
attacked aboard buses.
CB radio operators, neighborhood groups and women's activists have also
organizing weekend "desert patrols" to search for evidence.
The desperation has reached such a pitch that prosecutors have asked the
help out on the case, in part because people trust U.S. police more.
One week ago, the FBI established a tip hotline and soon will begin giving
to dozens of Mexican police in crime scene investigation.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.