Who killed Brad Will? - Page 8

And why has the murder of an American journalist in Mexico gone unpunished?
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photo by Raul Estrella for El Universal

The PRI-istas and the cops had their .38s, and they were shooting at us," he said. "We were trying to save Brad Will's life, not to kill him."

And if Caña Cadeza had any proof of her allegations, she likely would have filed charges. But none of the protesters or Will's companions has been formally charged with the killing. Prosecutors have never publicly presented the alleged murder weapon.

But by the time Caña Cadeza told her story, of course, the only way to determine for sure the order of the bullets and the distance from which they had been fired would have been to exhume Will's body. And there was no body; he had been cremated the week before.

On Nov. 28, Santiago Zárate and Aguilar Coello were released from custody by Judge Victoriano Barroso because of "insufficient evidence," with the stipulation that they could not be rearrested without the presentation of new evidence.

Caña Cadeza, who is now running as a PRI candidate for the state legislature, collaborated closely on the case with Oaxaca secretary of citizen protection Lino Celaya. Both reported to Ruiz's secretary of government, Heliodoro Díaz, who in turn reported directly to the governor. There seems little doubt that the prosecutor's accusations of murder against Will's comrades — and the determination of innocence for the apparent killers — came straight from the top.

ON THE EVIDENCE TRAIL

Dr. Mendoza was occupied when I stopped by the Oaxaca city morgue to ask for a copy of the autopsy report on which the state has based its allegations.

"Will died eight months ago," Mendoza complained testily. "Do you know how many others have died since? How many autopsies I've performed?" He gestured to a morgue room where cadavers were piled up.

The coroner was scrunched over his desk, filling out the paperwork for one of the dead. He didn't have any time to look for the autopsy report. I was not the first reporter to ask him about the document. "What paper are you from anyway?" he asked suspiciously, and when I showed him my media card, he told me that it didn't sound like a real newspaper to him. "I know what I'm doing. I worked as a coroner in your country," he snapped defensively and waved me out of the office.

But Mendoza might not be quite as cocksure as he sounded. A senior agent for the US government in Oaxaca, who asked not to be named in this article, told me later that Mendoza confided to him that he was no ballistics expert, nor could he determine from how far away the bullets were fired.

I walked into the police commissary under the first-floor stairs of the Santa Lucía del Camino Municipal Palace. The small room was crowded with cops and cigarette smoke. Three of the officers were in full battle gear, and the rest were plainclothes. I had been warned not to ask for Carmona, the most prominent red shirt on Will's film. Carmona is described as a prepotente — i.e., a thug with an attitude who is always packing.

Instead, I asked the desk clerk if I could get a few minutes with Santiago Zárate and Aguilar Coello. For all I knew, the two were sitting in the room behind me. The desk clerk studied my card. "Qué lástima!" he exclaimed — what a shame. Santiago Zárate had just left and wouldn't be back until after six. Aguilar Coello was off that day. When I called back after six, Santiago Zárate was still not available. Nor were he and Aguilar Coello ever available the dozen or so times I called back.

This sort of stonewalling is not terribly unusual for Mexico, where killer cops often sell their services to local caciques (political bosses) and go back to work as if nothing had happened.