Federal hate crime charges possible in gay Puerto Rican teenager’s murder

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Tuesday December 15, 2009

A federal prosecutor on Puerto Rico said earlier today her office would file hate crime charges against the man who reportedly confessed to killing gay teenager Jorge Steven Lpez Mercado if local authorities do not.

United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodrguez told Puerto Rican press her office continues to monitor the case. EDGE reported late last month local prosecutors agreed to investigate Lpez's murder as a hate crime after local activists met with Puerto Rico Department of Justice Secretary Antonio Sagarda. This case could be the first tried under the legislation President Barack Obama signed into law in late October that added both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to federal hate crime statutes.

Juan A. Martnez Matos has reportedly confessed to murdering the gay teenager on Nov. 13. He allegedly decapitated, dismembered and partially burned his body before he dumped it along a road near Cayey.

A Caguas judge last week ordered Martnez, who is known by his nickname Gasper, to undergo a psychological evaluation to see if he is competent to stand trial Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force expressed his outrage over this decision to EDGE, but he welcomed Rodrguez's announcement.

"We are satisfied that the federal authorities are monitoring this case and that they're respecting the work that the local authorities are doing," he told EDGE in an e-mail. "We are all vigilant to this process and we won't rest until justice is served. This was a horrible hate crime and Puerto Rico needs to send a powerful message to the world that we do not tolerate homophobia in any of its ugly forms."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.