MEXICO CITY — An American woman and her Mexican husband were acquitted on Friday of charges of killing a Mexican girl, after a government commission told the judge that prosecutors or experts witnesses had committed irregularities in the case.

The acquittal drew praise from human rights activists, who accuse police and prosecutors of mishandling investigations or framing suspects in more than 100 women’s killing since 1993.

Bloomington, Minn., native Cynthia Kiecker and her husband, Ulysis Perzabal, said they had been tortured by police and forced to confess to the May 2003 slaying of 16-year-old Viviana Rayas. The couple spent more than 1 1/2 years in jail.

“The prosecution had absolutely no evidence except the confessions, which were tortured out of them,” said Carol Kiecker, Cynthia’s mother, who waged a campaign to exonerate her daughter. The couple was released, and was completing final immigration procedures in Chihuahua Friday before driving to the U.S. border to spend Christmas in Minnesota.

Referring to the case — and that of a suspect who was allegedly tortured into confessing into similar murders in the border city of Ciudad Juarez — Kiecker said “it’s really quite sad that people are scapegoated for these crimes,” adding “I think something needs to be fixed” in the country’s justice system.

Mexico’s Interior Department announced the verdict in a press statement, and noted that a government commission to prevent violence against women in Ciudad Juarez — north of Chihuahua City, where Kiecker was arrested — had sent the judge a report “concerning irregularities committed during the investigation.”

“Blaming innocent people only foments impunity, and that only benefits the guilty ones,” the department said in the press statement.

The Washington Office on Latin America, a rights group known as WOLA, called the acquittal “a promising development in the handling of the murder investigations into one of hundreds of women killed in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City since 1993.”

The jailing of Kiecker — who along with her husband, ran a Chihuahua City boutique that advertised tarot-card readings, dreadlock weaving and faith healing with stones — was apparently another case of the sloppy police work that has made activists doubt the investigations into the string of killings.

Most of the those murders — in which mainly young women were strangled and sexually abused — occurred in Juarez, but spread to Chihuahua, the state capital, starting about 2000.

Prosecutors had claimed that Kiecker and Perzabal had killed Rayas in a satanic ritual. Three witnesses who initially testified against them also retracted their testimony, alleging torture.

WOLA’s Mexico representative, Laurie Freeman, said “we can’t forget that Viviana’s murderer is still at large and her family is still awaiting truth and justice. But the acquittal means that the authorities can no longer pretend that they’ve solved the crime they’ll actually have to investigate her murder seriously.”

Freeman added in a statement that “as long as police resort to torture to obtain confessions, the murders of young women in Juarez and Chihuahua will not be solved.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, USA
Dec. 18, 2004
Mark Stevenson

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday December 18, 2004.
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