If murder statistics for Mexico are accurate, the person or persons who killed Maria de Jesus Llamas Coronado on Oct. 5, 2013, while she was in custody in Guaymas by the state police, may never be brought to justice. The sad fact is that thousands of murders go unsolved in Mexico every year.
In 2012, there were 27,500 homicides. Only 523 – less than 2 percent – were solved. Mexico, it would seem, is a great place to commit murder. Not only do cases of murder go unsolved in Mexico, 50 percent of persons taken into police custody show signs of abuse or torture, according to a 2012 report from the National Commission on Human Rights out of Mexico City. The case of Maria de Jesus Llamas Coronado, also known as “La China,” is no exception.
On Sept. 26, 2013, Guillermo Padres, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) governor of the state of Sonora, was on the Malecon in Guaymas giving a state of the state address to the public, and Maria Jesus had been hired to do a job that night. That job was to lure a man named Omar Nunez, head of the local PAN office in Guaymas, into a hotel room in Las Playitas where compromising pictures were to be taken of the couple together, preferably disrobed. ?Some time after entering the room together, a photographer was to burst in and take pictures of the two of them. The pictures then could be used to blackmail Omar. The motives for this crime appear to be completely political. Perhaps Omar Nunez would be required to resign his post from PAN and end any further political aspirations he might have. If he played ball, then the pictures might never see the light of day. That was the plan.
For Maria Jesus, that evening would offer the perfect opportunity to get to Omar. On a night like this, he could come home late and his wife would not suspect a thing. If you are going to have an affair, the governor as your alibi is about as good as an alibi ever gets. Maria Jesus also had a few other things going for her that would get Omar in the sack, the only part of the plan that would actually work. She was young and good looking and Omar Nunez had a history of using his political affiliations with PAN to lure women into bed. He also had a reputation for not paying ladies of the night after he had sex with them. When he was PAN’s representative for the Secretary of Education and Culture, it has been said that on more than one occasion that he offered young women jobs in exchange for sex. The problem was that after the sex, the jobs never materialized. ? PAN was well aware of Omar’s adventures or aventuras, as they are called in Mexico. He was personally reprimanded by others in the party and told he had to stop taking advantage of economically distressed women who were willing to sleep with him to get a job, and if he was going to use the services of a prostitute, then he should pay for services rendered. It would seem Omar’s womanizing ways were about to catch up with him. So on the evening of Sept. 26, a formidable match of personalities was about to take place. A man who was accustomed to taking advantage of women was about to be taken advantage of, by a woman. And he had no idea of what was coming.
The beginning of the night went right according to plan. ? After the Governor’s event on the Malecon, the couple ventured to a small, discrete and dilapidated hotel on the other side of Guaymas, across the bay in Las Playitas. They rented a room at the little hotel that used to be part of a trailer park where, back in the heyday of Guaymas tourism (1960s and early ’70s), many American tourists would camp out. The first part of the plan to go wrong started at Las Playitas. The rest of the alleged blackmail team, which consisted of a driver, a photographer and a local municipal police officer, showed up at the hotel but the manager didn’t like the looks of them. They were denied entry to the interior of the hotel. The whole plan was now in turmoil. What the alleged blackmailers did at this point was return to the residence of Maria Jesus and wait for Omar to drop her off at home. When the couple arrived, Omar, one way or another, was going to have to drop his drawers and have his picture taken.? Omar’s version of the details of what happened when he dropped off Maria Jesus at her residence has changed several times. The changes can be tracked via his various declarations to the Ministerio Publico (MP). San Carlos Wireless was able to read a copy of the first declaration to the MP. Omar’s declaration was taken the following day, on Sept. 27, in a six-hour marathon session with the MP present. Statements are often taken by the MP’s secretary but this statement was taken in the presence of the MP. The statement minus all the legal jargon is three pages long. In this declaration, Omar states that he was beaten, robbed of 1,800 pesos, and threatened at gunpoint. He even describes the gun as being silver or chrome plated. The only problem with this first declaration to the MP is that it does not jibe with what Omar told to a man named Oscar Acosta Castro, who Omar himself called to the scene of the crime that very night. Oscar Acosta Castro has been a rank and file PAN member for many years. In the late ’90s, Oscar occupied the same position as Omar; he was the lead representative of PAN for Guaymas. Why did Omar call Oscar? “It was late at night and I was the only person who answered the phone,” Oscar said. ? Omar called Oscar on his cell phone right after his blackmailers left the scene, and Oscar was there within 20 minutes of receiving the call. Maria Jesus lived in a colonia called La Petrolera, which sits right in front of the Pemex petroleum terminal and the CFE electricity generating station on the west side of Guaymas. When Oscar was close to Maria’s house but unsure exactly which house it was, he called Omar on his cell to ask if he was in the right place. Omar then walked out to the road, got in his car and flashed his headlights. Oscar was a few blocks away but clearly saw when Omar flashed the headlights. When Oscar drove the remaining couple of blocks to the house, he was surprised to encounter Omar with his hands bound behind his back. When Oscar asked Omar why his hands were still tied, Omar said, “I asked them to leave me exactly how I was so you could see me and be my witness.” Oscar’s immediate reply was “But a witness to what? I wasn’t here at the moment this all happened. Were you robbed?” Omar said they stole his wallet that had about 1,800 pesos in it. Oscar found it hard to believe that Omar would carry that much money in his wallet when it was clear he was on another one of his adventures with a woman that he certainly didn’t plan on paying. Omar also said he was not beaten, there was no mention whatsoever of any threats to his life, no gun was involved in the incident and the whole thing was over in minutes.
The most glaring discrepancy of all was the question of Omar’s wallet being robbed. Omar had told Oscar that his wallet was stolen but when the two finally split up to go home, at the entrance to Guaymas Norte, Omar’s wallet magically reappeared. Omar said he found it under his seat and offered to put 100 pesos of gas in Oscar’s car for his troubles. The two later agreed to meet at the office of the Ministerio Publico the next day to give their official statements. ?If anyone is a poster child for what is wrong with Mexico’s criminal and judicial system, the case of Maria Jesus would be that. It did not take police investigators long to figure out that Maria was involved. She was a known prostitute who had been in trouble with the law before. It was not a difficult deduction to make. Maria was brought into custody on Sept. 28 by the Policía Estatal Investigadora (state police investigators or PEI) and the Ministerio Público de la Procuraduría General de Justicia del estado de Sonora (the District Attorney for the Attorney General of the state of Sonora). She was placed in a holding cell by the PEI.
About midday on Oct. 5, she was reported to have committed suicide by hanging herself with a television electrical cord. Because of controversy over the cause of her death, the Sonoran State Commission on Human Rights (la Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH Sonora) was brought in to investigate. By Oct. 15, the CEDH finished its investigation and concluded that the original report by the PGJ coroner was correct. It was obvious that the Sonoran state government wanted this case closed quickly.? In a typical example of yellow journalism in Mexico, many news agencies falsely reported that the family of Maria Jesus was in agreement with the conclusions of the CEDH. If any of these so-called journalists, who only took the word of the CEDH spokesman, had bothered to call Brenda Figueroa, the sister of Maria
Jesus, they would have heard a completely different story. Brenda refused to believe that her sister, the mother of four children, would take her own life. Through an incredible twist of fate, Brenda was the last relative of Maria Jesus to see her alive. Brenda had a run in with the police and found herself in the cell right next to her sister the day before she was declared dead. In a statement to a reporter from the Hermosillo newspaper, El Imparcial, that was posted Oct. 17 on Youtube, Brenda commented: “She couldn’t have killed herself. Why? Because her state of mind was positive. She wanted to make right the mistakes she had made.”? It was at this point that Maria’s lawyer, Jose Maria Hernandez Aquirre, and Guaymas mayor Otto Claussen petitioned the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH.org.mx) to become involved in the case. On Nov. 5, a team of experts arrived in Guaymas to begin a new investigation into Maria’s death. By Nov. 6, Maria’s body was exhumed and another autopsy was performed by an expert coroner from the CNDH. On Dec. 22, the CNDH published its full report. It was a scathing indictment of the PEI in Guaymas. The crime scene was never cordoned off for the protection and preservation of evidence. The CNDH also concluded that the coroner who originally declared that Maria died from asphyxiation by hanging herself was not properly trained in forensic science to make that claim. The end result of the CNDH investigation concluded that Maria Jesus had not hung herself. She had been strangled to death.
As for the forensic doctor, Manuel Bernal Garcia of the state human rights commission (CEDH) who supposedly reviewed the case after the initial findings of the PGJ? Well, in an incredible case of passing the buck, he told reporters he was simply going by what the PGJ had already told him. Which means one of three things: The state coroner was incompetent, he never examined the body or he was told to call it a suicide.
Before Maria’s ultimate right, that of life, was violated, the PEI and Ministerio Publico committed many other violations of her rights. She was allowed limited access to her lawyer, who only saw her three times. All of her interrogations took place in the dead of night without her lawyer present. She was also not allowed to read the statements that were taken down by the Ministerio Publico before she signed them. This certainly calls into question her whole declaration. Nonetheless, based on Maria’s statements to the MP, five men were implicated in the crime and four of them were brought into custody: Francisco Javier Lopez Lucero (ex-PAN president of Guaymas), Francisco Javier Oceguera Sanchez, Sergio Grijalva (the driver), Jose Covarrubias Johnson (the photographer) and Ernesto Guadalupe Trillas Lemus (a local municipal police officer) all remain in custody to this day. ?The first two men on the list were not at the scene of the crime. Nor was another man named, Eduardo Gaxiola Marquez, who is wanted for questioning and remains at large. Gaxiola just happened to be the secretary to the mayor of Guaymas, Otto Claussen. If Gaxiola was truly involved in this, then that could implicate the mayor and the PRI political party.? How much of what Maria declared to the MP were her own words and how much was added later is only known by a handful of people and of course one of them is dead. There is another man who knows much about this case, Jose Maria Hernandez Aquirre, who was Maria’s lawyer, but he recently refused to speak to the
press. For good reason. It was reported on Dec. 17 as front-page news from La Voz del Puerto that Hernandez was kidnapped in front of his house in the small Guaymas suburb of Villas del Tular by two masked assailants. The story goes on to report that over the course of three hours, Hernandez was driven around Guaymas with a hood over his head while his abductors rifled through his cell phone text messages. It was also stated in the newspaper article that he heard his captors say repeatedly in a phone conversation that, “It is not him, it is not him.” When he was finally released, his kidnappers said: “We made a mistake but we are not thieves. Here is your cell phone back.” ? Kidnappings such as what lawyer Jose Hernandez experienced rarely have such a happy ending. But for this journalist and many others we have spoken to in Guaymas, it’s almost inconceivable that the official story that was reported in La Voz del Puerto is what really happened during those three hours that Hernandez was detained. What is much more likely is that he was told to back off this case and to stop making noise about it. San Carlos Wireless did obtain his phone number and finally did speak with him. We were told that we would be granted an interview but since that initial phone conversation, we have been unable to reach him. There are many other interviews that are still pending on this story as we go to press for this edition.
What happened to Omar Nunez on the night of Sept. 26 was wrong. What is also clear according to Oscar Acosta Castro is that Omar lied to the MP about this alleged kidnapping. Why would Omar lie about being beaten up, threatened and robbed with a pistol?
“These are more grave crimes,” said Oscar Acosta. In other words, if Omar was not beaten up, not robbed with a gun, not kidnapped and simply ordered to take his pants down to have his picture taken, then what the men and one woman who planned and executed this crime were guilty of was attempted blackmail, a crime that will not put you in jail for very long in Mexico. But add a gun to the scenario and it can turn into armed robbery, and if you get beat up, that is assault and then add a few threats to your life and the whole scenario changes rather rapidly. Now the accused are looking at real time in prison. ?Oscar believes, based on his eyewitness accounts just moments after the whole scene went down, that the most likely explanation of why the story changed had to do with Omar’s meeting with the Ministerio Publico the next morning. ? Oscar’s theory is that during the six-hour marathon session Omar had with the MP, a plan was formed. PAN officials in Hermosillo were called during this meeting and consulted on how to embellish the events of the preceding evening. Since this whole fiasco reeked of a internal PAN political rivalry from the beginning, Francisco Javier Lopez Lucero was once a PAN president as was Omar, it might be a good idea to try to implicate someone from the opposition PRI party in Guaymas just to make PRI look bad as well. This is possibly how the name of Eduardo Gaxiola Marquez, who was the secretary to the mayor, was brought into all this. Since the municipal police has eyes and ears all over town, the moment that Gaxiola Marquez’s name was mentioned at the MP’s office, it is likely a call was made to the mayor’s office. Thus Gaxiola Marquez was tipped off and vanished before he could be brought in around the beginning of October and has not been heard from since. Why did he vanish if he were truly innocent? In Mexico, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
Considering that the state governor is PAN and Marquez is a low-level PRI secretary to the mayor of Guaymas, his ability to fight possibly bogus charges would be very difficult indeed. It would make more sense to go into hiding until more information could be acquired. As we go to press with this story, there are still far more questions than answers and there are many interviews pending. San Carlos Wireless will continue to update this story as it unfolds. One thing is clear, though. If history is any measure, the person or persons who murdered Maria de Jesus Llamas Coronado will never be brought to justice. ?As I finished my interview with Oscar Acosta Castro, he asked me that no matter what I wrote if I would include one quote from him. “I believe La China died because of the lies of Omar Nunez.”