After meeting on Monday with the ACLU of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice has agreed to investigate the brutal murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado as a hate crime. The Department of Justice has also agreed to work with the ACLU to train Judges and prosecutors on hate crimes prosecutions.
Although the commonwealth has had sentencing guidelines since 2002 that give prosecutors and judges the ability to seek more severe punishment for hate crimes, prosecutors have never investigated a crime as a hate crime. After Mercado’s murder, local police officials showed a tremendous lack of sensitivity to the crime. Investigator Angel Rodriguez was quoted in local media reports as saying, "When these type of people get into this and go out into the streets like this, they know this can happen to them."
The commonwealth had previously announced that it would not be prosecuting the crime as a hate crime, so its decision to further investigate will help send a strong message that it now intends to take seriously its obligations to protect the people from hate crimes. The ACLU is also hopeful that training judges and prosecutors will increase sensitivity throughout the criminal justice system.
The ACLU of Puerto Rico received approximately 2000 calls, e-mails and letters asking it to help bring justice to the brutal murder. Needless to say, these letters were extremely helpful in getting the Department of Justice to reverse course.