June 10, 2008 / 10:07 PM / 11 years ago

Mexico police botched journalist murder case-watchdog

By Mariano Castillo

MEXICO CITY, June 10 (Reuters) - Mexican police botched the murder investigation of a journalist working near the U.S. border in 2004 by torturing suspects and mishandling evidence, the country’s human’s rights commission said.

Concern in the U.S. Congress about police and army abuses and a faltering justice system in Mexico has held up a $1.4 billion U.S. aid package, including helicopters and high-tech equipment for Mexico’s war against drug trafficking cartels.

Roberto Mora, editorial director of El Manana newspaper in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas, regularly wrote columns about drug trafficking and corrupt officials before he was stabbed to death in front of his home.

Police arrested a U.S. citizen, Mario Medina, and his gay partner for the murder, saying it was a crime of passion. Medina was later murdered in prison and his partner is still in jail.

But in a new report on the case, the human rights commission accused local authorities of torturing the men to force a confession and said medical examiners failed to include important forensic evidence in their reports on the case.

It also faults local human rights officials for overlooking the violations at the time of the murder.

"There is evidence to suggest members of the police carried out acts of intimidation against Mario Medina Vazquez so he would confess to his involvement in the murder," it said, calling for the case to be reopened.

Daniel Rosas, managing editor of El Manana said he wanted a federal investigation "to try to clear up how this crime really happened."

Twenty-one journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, seven of them in direct reprisal for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in drug violence across Mexico this year as the army goes after drug gangs and rival drugs lords battle for control of smuggling routes.

Journalists who investigate the drugs trade can become targets, and many have been threatened.

Suspected drug gunmen dumped a man’s head outside a newspaper in the southern state of Tabasco over the weekend with a message threatening police and rivals. On Monday, the director of the paper was threatened with a note that said, "You’re next." (Editing by Kieran Murray)

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