Charges have been dropped against four soldiers in the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre, in which Mexico’s military allegedly executed 22 individuals after they had been captured.
According to the AP, a federal judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to try a lieutenant and three soldiers for covering up the possible extrajudicial killings of the alleged gang suspects.
The decision to drop the charges against the four soldiers came after their lawyers demanded a review of the case on the grounds of “violations of due process,” reported Animal Politico. As the soldiers also face military charges, they will not be immediately released from prison.
The court, meanwhile, said it would still try three other soldiers involved in the deaths, El Universal reported.
Testimonies by three survivors and others alleged that the army fired first, that the majority of those killed were civilians, and that high-level military officials were aware of the situation and may have sought to cover up the incident.
On July 2, 2015, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CDNH) released a report (pdf) stating that the Mexican military had orders to “take out criminals” in the area of Tlatlaya. This report drew on witness testimony, as well as official documents. The report demanded investigation into the military’s responsibility for the actions.
InSight Crime Analysis
The case is a bellweather for those wondering how the Mexican government will deal with widespread accusations of extrajudicial executions by its security forces. So far, the results are mixed. The dismissal of charges of the four soldiers is typical for cases involving Mexico's military. But the investigation into the three other accused soldiers may provide some culpability for soldiers’ roles in the killings and could provide some precedent for further investigations.
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The case is also a testament of how Mexico's inability to collect strong forensic evidence continues to undermine prosecutors. While there was ballistic evidence and official documentation in the Tlatlaya case, the official investigation relied heavily on witness testimony. A lawyer for the defense stated that the testimonials of the three survivors contradicted themselves. Mexico’s courts have repeatedly discounted testimonial evidence, including in the Ayotzinapa case that concerns the disappearance of 43 students, to refute charges against security forces and others.
Without further material and forensic evidence to corroborate the testimonials, the court may drop all charges against the remaining soldiers as simply as they have dismissed the cover-up charges.