All week the ACLU of Puerto Rico has been closely following the brutal murder of 19 year-old gay man Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado. After learning the details of what happened to Mercado, the affiliate is now urging commonwealth prosecutors to investigate the murder as a hate crime.
A suspect in the killing was arrested several days ago. From news accounts there appears to be evidence that the murder may have been a hate crime. According to an article in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, the accused claims that he hired Mercado as a prostitute whom he thought was a woman. When he discovered that Mercado was a man, the accused says a fight broke out and that it was Mercado who pulled out a knife. The accuser’s assertion that he was merely acting in self defense rings false, especially when you consider that the crime took place in his apartment and he admitted to desecrating Mercado’s body, cutting off his head and limbs. The accused, who has been arrested four times for domestic violence, confessed to the police that he hates gay men because he was once raped while in jail in 2003. The location where the accused claims to have first encountered Mercado is frequented by transsexual prostitutes. Even with the stunning admission that the accused hated gay men, the commonwealth filed murder charges and will not be prosecuting as a hate crime. Since 2002, the commonwealth has had a sentencing guideline amendment to it’s penal code that directs the court to consider more severe sentencing when it is requested by the prosecutor. Yet, no one has ever been prosecuted under the law despite belief that there have been many crimes that have been motivated by hate. Prosecuting the crime as a hate crime wouldn’t likely affect the punishment in this case, but it would send a powerful message that the commonwealth now intends to take hate crime law seriously. The affiliate has already received hundreds of e-mails and calls from throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. asking the ACLU to put pressure on the commonwealth to prosecute the case as a hate crime. We will be turning these letters over to the Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice next Monday. But the more letters the better.
Please send an e-mail to Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice Antonio M. Sagardia at email@example.com. Be sure to cc: the ACLU of Puerto Rico at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we will know how many e-mails have been submitted. Let the secretary know that you are appalled by the brutal murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and urge him to investigate the crime as a hate crime. A high profile prosecution under the commonwealth’s hate crime sentencing guideline will send a powerful message that Puerto Rico takes hate crimes seriously. While this won’t help Mercado, it could help prevent future crimes of hate based on skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, language and disability and send a much needed message to the LGBT community that their government values all its citizens.