Editor’s Note: With today’s story, Frontera NorteSur continues our coverage of the ongoing murder trial of six men in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The defendants are charged with trafficking and killing 11 young women who were among numerous victims whose remains were recovered in the rural Juarez Valley back in 2011 and 2012. The disappearances and murders conformed to a pattern of organized gender violence, sometimes called femicide or feminicide, that’s terrorized Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua since the early 1990s.
Despite the gravity of the violence and the accusations against the defendants, as well as the historic use of a new oral system in the legal proceedings, little or no reporting on the trial has been forthcoming in the U.S. media.
FNS has been virtually the only English-language media outlet to stay on top of the lengthy trial, which commenced back in April. News coverage also has been very spotty in the national Mexican news media. The information below is drawn from the two most important Ciudad Juarez newspapers, El Diario and Norte, both of which have run regular stories.
In a Ciudad Juarez courtroom, the trial of six men accused of human trafficking and homicide has entered its final stages. After the prosecution concluded the bulk of its case earlier this month, it was the defense’s turn at the stand. For the first time, several of the defendants and friendly witnesses spoke to the court last week.
A central element of the State of Chihuahua’s case against the defendants is the now-closed Hotel Verde in downtown Juarez, where missing girls and young women were allegedly forced to work as prostitutes.
Previous trial testimony alluded to the victims being kept against their will in an isolated room or rooms in the upper portion of the building in 2009 and 2010. But defense witness Daniela Vanessa Noriega, who said she labored as a sex worker just outside the hotel from 2008 to 2010, told the court that she never saw any of the 11 victims or the six defendants on trial at the premises.
According to Noriega, all of the sex workers in and around the hotel were there voluntarily and rented rooms where they brought their clients, who included policemen, soldiers and officials from the district attorney’s office. The hotel made money from the business by renting rooms to the women and their clients, she said. During the time Noriega said she worked the Hotel Verde, Juarez was in upheaval from the hyper-violence of the so-called drug war.
In her testimony, Noriega acknowledged that she is a friend of Esperanza Castillo Saldana, a former worker at the Hotel Verde who is officially implicated in the disappearances and murders of the Juarez Valley victims. Castillo is currently far from the Juarez trial, imprisoned in the maximum security penitentiary of Puente Grande in the state of Jalisco on separate charges related to the murders of two federal police officers outside the Hotel Verde in 2010.
Another defense witness was the wife of defendant Cesar Felix Romero Esparza. Maria Luisa Ponce Gonzalez adamantly rejected that her husband had been involved in wrong-doing, telling the court that she and Romero dedicated themselves to selling hamburgers. Ponce recalled the early hours of June 11, 2013, when Romero was detained.
“They came for him at four in the morning,” she continued. “The state investigative police began to shout for him to come out and we all came out..they hit him but showed no documents, saying they had an (arrest warrant) but didn’t show anything.”
Prior to the raid, Romero had given a statement to the state prosecutor’s office in the capacity of a witness while authorities were investigating women’s disappearances, his wife said. Prosecution witnesses had earlier testified that Romero was seen in the company of Juarez Valley victims Perla Ivonne Aguirre Gonzalez, Maria Guadalupe Perez Montes and Monica Liliana Delgado in downtown Juarez after the young women had disappeared on separate occasions. No physical evidence, however, was introduced tying Romero to the victims’ murders or supposed captivity.
Taking the stand, Romero strongly denied any involvement in the crimes. He said insinuations that he was involved with the Aztecas, a cross-border gang linked by prosecutors to the Juarez Valley femicides, were likewise untrue as evidenced both by his lack of tattoos (an Azteca identifier) and detention in a neutral section of the local prison as opposed to the wing reserved for members of the gang.
Romero stridently denounced the trial, calling it a “farce” that is victimizing him as a “scapegoat.”
“The press has burned us at the national and international levels, and I want the entire international community to know what is happening here in the state,” Romero said in a forceful voice.
“We are fighting with some people that are not trained to handle these situations of investigating. They investigate from a desk, really, and I am not going to allow this…”
Reminiscent of previous prosecutions against femicide suspects in Juarez and Chihuahua City that turned out to have no veracity, Romero vowed to bring the case to the world’s attention.
Chihuahua law enforcement was also challenged by another defendant, Jose Gerardo Puentes Alva, who maintained his innocence and claimed that state police agents burst into his home without an arrest warrant too.
The prosecution’s case revolves around the alleged activities of a criminal ring dedicated to extortion, drug-dealing and prostitution which was led by Adrian Roldan de la Cruz, or “El Miguelito.” Allegedly, the ring lured girls and women with help wanted ads as a ruse to capture them and force victims into prostitution.
Defendant Jesus Hernandez Martinez , a one-time associate of Roldan de la Cruz, acknowledged that he was paid to drive sex workers to hotels and private homes around Juarez in a Malibu auto. Hernandez stated in court June 18 that two officials from the state prosecutor’s attempted to have him sign a confession to crimes on blank papers.
Hernandez testified that he later went into business for himself because of mistreatment by Roldan de la Cruz, but witness Guillermina Esmeralda Castadena , who was identified as a sex worker, said she always understood that Hernandez was working with “El Miguelito.” According to Castaneda, the two men tended to meet at the Afro bar in Juarez.
Hernandez is serving a 25-year prison sentence for kidnapping a woman at the behest of Roldan de la Cruz in a separate matter. “El Miguelito” is one defendant or witness the court will not hear directly from: he died from gunshot wounds suffered at the hands of state police agents in 2013.
Originally a suspect in the case, Jesus Damian Perez Ortega, aka “El Patachu,” was called as a defense witness in an apparent effort to discredit prosecution star witness Luis Jesus Ramirez Loera, who fingered Perez as an integral part of El Miguelito’s ring. But it was later revealed that Perez was in prison at the same time the crimes were committed.
Charged with possessing six kilos of marijuana after he was arrested at the checkpoint outside Juarez in 2005, Perez was imprisoned until December 12, 2012- during and after the time the Juarez Valley crimes took place.
In the Juarez court last week, he countered testimony by an official from the state prosecutor’s office that prison officials could have illegally let Perez in and out of prison with the specific purpose of committing crimes against women.
“They said I could leave when I wanted to, but that is not true,” Perez said. The ex-con, whose name still keeps popping up in the trial, added that an official from the state prosecutor’s office earlier told him that he had to confess to crimes against women.
Perez’s lawyer, Marco Gloria, provided the Juarez court with details of his client’s imprisonment between 2005 and 2012, including stints at two separate Juarez lock-ups before a transfer to a prison in Monclova, Coahuila, in 2012.
Interested readers can find Frontera NorteSur’s earlier stories on the Juarez Valley murder trial by going to the April and May archives on our website:http://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/
Sources: Nortedigitial.mx, June 15, 17, 18. 19, 2015. Articles by Carlos Huerta and editorial staff. El Diario de Juarez, June 15, 17 and 18, 2015. Articles by Blanca Elizabeth Carmona and editorial staff.