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Mexican Lawyer's Death Likely a Suicide

Associated Press, 19 July 2003


MEXICO CITY (AP) -- A special prosecutor has determined that human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa likely took her own life, the second time an official investigation has concluded her death was probably a suicide.

Ochoa, 38, was found dead Oct. 19, 2001, shot once in the left leg and again in the head. Her death drew international attention. The U.N. human rights commissioner joined scores of international organizations in criticizing Mexico's poor defense of human rights.

But former federal Judge Margarita Guerra said her investigation found no evidence of a homicide.

"There wasn't one thing that could lead us to conclude that someone was interested in taking Digna's life, or even harming her," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Guerra's report will be formally presented to the Mexico City prosecutor's office on Saturday.

Ochoa, a former nun, had represented Zapatista guerrilla sympathizers, anti-logging activists and clients who claimed they were abused and tortured by the police and army.

She had received a number of threats before her death, and officials had placed her under police protection -- although she was not under guard at the time of her death.

Ochoa's family members have insisted that authorities -- including Guerra -- have not sufficiently considered the possibility that Ochoa was killed.

A note threatening other human rights workers was left near her body, and her friends and family have maintained she was murdered.

"We are certain that they are trying to hide something," Ochoa's brother, Jesus, said Friday. "We will continue to believe it was a murder."

He added that his attorneys were preparing a request to have the report thrown out.

Former prosecutor Renato Sales was forced to resign after his investigation of Ochoa's death found no evidence of a murder. In his report, Sales said Ochoa had a history of mental problems, including a previous attempt at suicide in 1988.

A committee of human rights officials then appointed former federal Judge Margarita Guerra to lead a second investigation.

Guerra said evidence indicated Ochoa shot a chair, her left leg and, finally her head. She confirmed that Ochoa, who is right-handed, used her left hand for the final shot, but she added that isn't uncommon in suicide cases.

She said Ochoa showed signs of mental illness, including manic-depression and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Authorities found no evidence of forced entry or an assailant at the office where Ochoa's body was found, and officials determined she was killed with her own gun.

Guerra said she studied all possibilities, including the idea that Ochoa was killed for her work.

"It is painful, as it would be for any family," Guerra said of her conclusion. "But ... there is nothing worse than the blindness of someone who doesn't want to see reality."

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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