MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican authorities sent conflicting messages Tuesday about the violent deaths of a leading LGBTQ+ figure and partner after thousands marched in the capital demanding justice.
Jesús Ociel Baena, the first openly nonbinary person to assume a judicial post in Mexico, was found dead Monday with around 20 wounds lying next to the body of Dorian Herrera at the home they shared in the central city of Aguascalientes.
Baena was one of the most visible LGBTQ+ figures in a country where sexual minorities are often violently targeted and had reported receiving death threats and hateful messages. The couple had received protection from state security, prompting many LGBQT+ activists to call the deaths a hate crime.
The Aguascalientes state prosecutor's office on Tuesday described the deaths as a murder-suicide, saying it appeared that Baena was murdered with razor blades by Herrera, who then committed suicide.
“It may seem like a not very credible hypothesis to many, but we're being very careful to leave a record and preserve all evidence,” state prosecutor Jesús Figueroa Ortega said.
He said the magistrate's cleaning lady found the bodies locked in the home and called Baena's bodyguard. One of the wounds was on Baena's jugular and that investigators found blood on the bed and bloody footprints leading through the home, the prosecutor added.
Later in the day, the prosecutor's office said Herrera had tested positive for methamphetamines.
Federal authorities, however, urged caution in the investigation. Félix Arturo Medina, an official with Mexico's Interior Ministry, said that “it's important to not throw out any line of investigation.” He said federal officials hoped to coordinate with state authorities to investigate the deaths.
“It's a relevant case for us, not just because of the activism the magistrate was carrying out,” but also because the government wants all crimes to be investigated, Medina said.
Impunity runs rampant in Mexico. Only 1% of all crimes committed were reported, investigated and resolved in 2022, according to a survey by National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
The state prosecutors’ hypothesis of a murder-suicide was quickly disputed by the family and friends of Baena and Herrera, who called “completely unthinkable.”
Máximo Carrasco, a friend of both for over five years who spoke on behalf of the couple's relatives,Carrasco said loved ones want the investigation taken out of the hands of the Aguascalientes state prosecutor's office and handled by federal investigators.
He said that rather than investigating, state authorities are trying to give the killing a “carpetazo,” Spanish for trying to make the case go away.
“I knew what they were like as a couple,” Carrasco said. “This was a hate crime."
He said that Baena and Herrera were close friends who often stayed at his home in Mexico City and that neither he nor anyone close to them saw anything other than a loving, respectful relationship.
Carrasco, who saw the two just a week before their deaths, echoed other accounts given to The Associated Press describing the magistrate and Herrera as chipper and talking passionately about future activism.
Alejandro Brito, director of the LGBTQ+ rights group Letra S, urged authorities to continue to investigate the incident and to take into consideration the context of the case and the threats of violence against Baena.
Brito called state prosecutor's version of events “loaded with prejudices” and said quick conclusions made by local authorities have only deepened distrust of authorities among historically victimized communities.
“In these types of homicides they always try to disqualify or belittle," Brito said. “These statements that the prosecutor is giving, what they're doing isn't clarifying the acts, they're adding fuel to the fire of these prejudices.”
Thousands gathered in the heart of Mexico City on Monday night lighting candles over photos of Baena and other victims of anti-LGBTQ+ violence. They shouted “Justice” and “We won’t stay silent” and demanded a thorough investigation into the deaths.
Baena appeared in regularly published photos and videos wearing skirts and heels and toting a rainbow fan in court offices and advocated on social media platforms, drawing hundreds of thousands of followers.
“I am a nonbinary person. I am not interested in being seen as either a woman or a man. This is an identity. It is mine, for me, and nobody else." Baena posted on X, formerly Twitter, in June. “Accept it.”
Last month, the Aguascaliente electoral court presented Baena with a certificate recognizing the magistrate with the gender neutral noun “maestre,” a significant step in Spanish, a language that splits most of its words between two genders, masculine or feminine.
The National Observatory of Hate Crimes Against LGBTI+ Persons in Mexico registered 305 violent hate crimes against sexual minorities in 2019-2022, including murder, disappearances and more.
Carrasco said Baena was an integral part of pushing to reduce those numbers and to allow nonbinary people to “occupy spaces that we would have never imagined existing in."
“The massive legacy that they left was: They taught us to raise our voices, to always push forward and never backward," Carrasco said.
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