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Mexican Governor of Deadliest State for Reporters Will Testify in Photographer Killing

It was the first sign that Javier Duarte might face judicial pressure to answer claims among Veracruz reporters that his administration is responsible for the killings of journalists.

by Daniel Hernandez
Aug 11 2015, 6:00pm

Imagen por Katherine Corcoran/AP

Governor Javier Duarte of the Mexican state of Veracruz will face questioning in the case of slain photojournalist Ruben Espinosa and the threats the journalist said were directed at him for his work there.

In a brief statement, the Mexico City attorney general's office said Duarte is considered a "witness" and that investigators will now seek his statements "derived from the line of investigation of the professional activity of activism of two of the five victims," among them Espinosa, who were found tortured and shot to death in a capital apartment on July 31.

Nadia Vera, another victim in the brutal multiple slaying, was a student activist who said explicitly months before her death that "if anything happened" to her, the figure to blame would be Duarte. Espinosa also claimed before dying that Duarte sent henchmen to threaten him.

A spokesman for the Mexico City prosecutor told VICE News his superiors did not disclose when investigators would be gathering Duarte's statements. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said investigators would be traveling to Veracruz today.

But the announcement was the first sign that the governor might face exterior judicial pressure to answer long-held claims among news reporters in Veracruz that Duarte's administration holds some responsibility for the threats or unsolved killings of journalists in his state.

nervous-looking Duarte held a press conference to defend himself on Monday, saying his administration seeks to protect free speech in Veracruz.

At least 13 and by some counts 14 reporters have been killed in his state since Duarte took office in December 2010. One of the most emblematic cases is the murder of Proceso magazine investigative reporter Regina Martinez in 2012 in Xalapa.

Related: Mexico Is a Killing Ground for Journalists

Duarte has been mostly dismissive of the deaths, usually blaming other factors in the victim's life for each killing. On July 1 — Free Speech Day in Veracruz — Duarte upped the ante in a chilling speech before news reporters in which he warned those present to "behave."

"We're going to shake the tree, and many rotten apples are going to fall," Duarte said, according to recordings. "I say it for your best interest, for your families."

Reporters and press-freedom advocates said Duarte's July 1 speech amounted to a threat against all news gatherers in Veracruz.

The governor referred to journalists who "have ties" to organized crime in Veracruz, a drug- and human-trafficking hub believed to be under control of the Zetas cartel. Press-rights groups say some reporters in Mexico are forced to accept bribes or face threats from organized crime groups.

'Everything indicates the Colombian woman will be the scapegoat in this horrendous crime.'

New details emerged in the murder investigation. The Colombian national mentioned early in the case but who remained unnamed for days was identified as Mile Virginia Martin, 31, previously referred to as "Nicole."

Martin, born in Bogota, moved to Mexico City in 2010 to pursue a modeling career. She had not seen her family since 2012, the last time she travelled to Colombia. According to reports, Martin had lived for less than two months in the apartment when she was killed alongside Espinosa, Vera, 18-year-old Yesenia Quiroz, and 40-year-old Alejandra Negrete.

So far, Mexico City authorities have arrested one of three alleged killers, Daniel Pacheco Gutierrez, a man who had already served a prison sentence for rape and robbery.

Related: Small Newspaper in Veracruz Comes Under Attack Days After Photojournalist Massacre

Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte. (Photo via Gobierno de Veracruz)

In a letter in response and in his first press conference since the killings, Duarte said the case was "atrocious" and required justice.

He said he would cooperate, but added that the Veracruz government has no business in the case, since it did not happen within the state's borders. Duarte also stepped back from the controversial "behave" statements, saying they were taken out of context.

"We respect the free expression of ideas, the freedom to demonstrate, and all the expressions of freedom that happen in the state," Duarte said. His "behave" comments were directed at the residents of Poza Rica, where the speech took place, he said.

The body of Mile Virginia Martin showed the worst injuries, with signs of choking and rape. According to the prosecutor's office, Martin tried to fight back her attackers, who repeatedly hit her in response. Pacheco told investigators he took no part in the sexual abuse, but that he witnessed his two companions rape Martin. Investigators were still looking at the murders primarily as a robbery case.

According to Pacheco's statement, he identified the two other alleged criminals as a street parking attendant who is presumably a former policeman, and a street clown named "Omar." Both men remain at large, officials said. Pacheco is facing charges of femicide, murder, and aggravated robbery.

Indignation over the murders in Mexico City has spread. Protests occurred in Buenos Aires and London as well as cities across Mexico. On Monday, an estimated 1,000 demonstrators gathered before Duarte's residence in central Xalapa, the state capital, with signs saying "Fuiste tú!" ("It was you!")

Protesters also denounced the manner in which authorities were handling the Colombian victim's identity.

"Everything indicates the Colombian woman will be the scapegoat in this horrendous crime," wrote columnist Catalina Ruiz-Navarro in El Espectador, a Bogotá newspaper. "You already hear people saying 'It was about drugs.' In fact, the word 'Colombian' is being used as a euphemism for prostitute."

Meanwhile, Mexico City's government announced the implementation of a city ordinance to protect human rights advocates and journalists. If an activist or reporter seeks help from the city, authorities will now offer self-defense training, relocation services, bullet-proof vests, or provide them with surveillance.

The state of Veracruz has a similar law, but journalists keep dying there.

Related: From London to a Football Field, Protests Spread Against 'Genocide in Mexico'

Gabriela Gorbea contributed to this report.

In photo above, slain photographer Ruben Espinosa places a plaque honoring Regina Martinez, investigative reporter also killed in Veracruz, in Xalapa on April 28, 2015.

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