Police in Mexico City have made a first arrest in connection with the murder of Mexican photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and four women, although the authorities are still trying to determine the motives behind the brutal slayings, which took place on July 31.
The detained man is Daniel Pacheco Gutiérrez, a 42-year-old former convict who was released from prison in 2005 after serving a nine-year term for rape.
The suspect has admitted to robbing the apartment but said he didn’t take part in the killings
According to investigators, the suspect has admitted to robbing the apartment where the bodies of Espinosa, his girlfriend Nadia Vera, and three other women were found, tied up and with gunshot wounds to the head. But the former convict denied taking part in the killings.
Unofficial sources have told reporters that at least two of the female victims were raped before they were killed.
The crime has outraged many sectors of Mexican society, who are demanding that the government provide more protection for journalists.
Espinosa, 31, had reportedly fled to Mexico City less than two months ago from the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, where he was working, after he said he was being harassed and intimidated by an unknown group of people.
But police still don’t know whether the murders are directly connected to Espinosa’s work as a journalist.
Authorities haven’t ruled out whether one of the women was actually the target of the hit, it was a case of femicide or if the killings took place after a botched robbery – a motive that had initially been discarded but is also being considered.
The suspect in custody was arrested in the Mexican capital after he was traced through fingerprints found at the crime scene. Pacheco Gutiérrez was charged by Mexico City’s Attorney General with femicide and robbery, EFE news agency reported.
Sources have identified the two women who were raped as 18-year-old Yesenia Quiroz and 31-year-old Colombian native Mile Virginia Martín, whose identity was confirmed by the Colombian government. She had been initially identified in the Mexican press as “Nicole.”
Both women were roommates with Nera, a university student activist who lived with Espinosa in Xalapa, Veracruz before arriving in Mexico City.
The fifth victim has been identified as Alejandra Negrete, a 40-year-old housekeeper who arrived at the apartment at around 9am on the day of the murders.
The five were tied up, beaten and tortured before they were each shot in the head, investigators said.
Espinosa, Vera, Quiroz, Martín and another friend, who has only been identified as “Arturo,” stayed up all night at the apartment before the photographer decided to leave around the time Negrete arrived.
Officials haven’t ruled out whether one of the women was the target of a hit, femicide or a botched robbery
Sometime later, Espinosa told Arturo that was going to return to the apartment. That was the last time Arturo, who is now an official witness, saw his friend alive.
A surveillance camera captured the moments when three of the reported suspects left the apartment building in Mexico City’s Narvarte neighborhood at around 3pm. In the grainy video, one of the men can be seen wheeling a suitcase – reportedly with items taken from the ransacked apartment – while two others get into a Ford Mustang owned by the Colombian woman before speeding away.
Police believe the robbery, rapes and murders took place within an hour from the time Espinosa sent a text message to his friend Arturo (“I will text you when I get home”) at 2.13pm.
It is not known whether there were any valuables in the apartment. The roommates shared the cost of the $600 monthly rent for the flat, which is located in a middle-class neighborhood.
The entire murder case, which has focused on the dangers journalists in Mexico face when reporting the news, has placed a special emphasis on Veracuz Governor Javier Duarte, who has had run-ins with reporters in the past.
Police believe the crime took place within an hour from the time Espinosa sent a last text message to a friend
Just weeks before he died, Espinosa, who worked for the newsweekly Proceso and Cuartoscuro news agency, publicly denounced the corruption and impunity in Veracruz and was especially critical of Duarte’s administration.
Since the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) official came to office in 2011, at least 15 journalists have been killed in his state.
United Nations officials and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, as well as various NGOs, have called on the Mexican government to carry out a full investigation to determine if Espinosa’s murder was a political assassination.
English version by Martin Delfín.