Suspect charged in horrific murder of Puerto Rican gay teen

20 November 2009
9:00 am

While this isn't related to gaming, I wanted to take a second to post something about an issue that might have missed the radar for some. This story has only recently begun to receive mainstream attention.

Last week the body of 19 year old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was found on the side of a road in central Puerto Rico. The body had been decapitated, dismembered and partially burned. Both of his arms and legs had been severed, an attempt had been made to do the same with his torso, and the entirety of his body had been dumped off of an isolated street. Jorge was openly gay, well liked and very popular. From a posting to CNN's iReport, a resident of Puerto Rico stated that despite the issue being talked about vocally within the gay community there and despite outcries for action, the story went unreported until it became an international issue. Soon after the details of Jorge's sexuality began to emerge, one of the officers on the case made a public statement implying that the victim "had it coming" because of the lifestyle he "chose." Thankfully, because of the outrage of the Puerto Rican LGBT community, it appears this officer has been removed from the case and reprimanded for his comments.

By Wednesday a suspect had been apprehended and was charged for the crime. Juan A. Martinez Matos was interrogated by police and confessed that he picked the victim up off of the street and offered him cash for sex; allegedly he initially believed the victim was a woman, and when he discovered that wasn't the case had a violent reaction. During an altercation between the two, Martinez Matos claimed the victim pulled a knife first. The typical "gay panic" defence here is being used; Martinez Matos claimed that he regressed to an incident when he was sexually assaulted during an earlier stint in prison, leading to the conflict between them:

Martinez Matos was "looking for women" in a red light district last Friday. He had already been turned down several times, but Lopez Mercado, wearing a blue dress and boots, agreed to get in his car.

District Attorney Jose J. Bermudez says that in his confession, Martinez Matos said that he thought Lopez Mercado was a woman. The victim asked him for money and when he refused, Lopez Mercado pulled out a knife. When Martinez Matos realized that the teenager was actually male, he had a flashback to when he was raped in prison while he was serving a sentence for domestic violence. He then attacked Lopez Mercado, separating his arms from his torso.

Police found a wig, a knife, a burned mattress, a burned PVC pipe and blood on the wall where the murder took place.

Activists within Puerto Rico are asking the media to focus on the crime and not the behavior of the victim. With the recent passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, federal agencies are working with local officials to determine whether or not this will be tried as a hate crime. If it is, it will mark the first case to be tried under this provision. A lot of commentary is claiming that if not for the efforts of the LGBT community within Puerto Rico and worldwide to break this story, it would have remained largely ignored.

With every step towards equality we make, it's easy to begin to forget the difficulties we actually face as a community in the larger picture. It's easy to become complacent and forget the stark reality dealt with by so many people simply because of who they are; not just in countries like Iran, but in the United States and the UK where we don't "expect" this stuff to happen. It's easy to forget the people we've lost who paved the road towards us being able to be ourselves in the open in the first place. With every act of violence against our community, with every murder and suicide, we have to reaffirm our awareness and desire to ensure that tragedies like this are stopped permanently.

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