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Puerto Rico Police Investigate Another Possible Anti-Gay Hate Crime

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday October 27, 2011

Puerto Rican police continue to investigate the death of a gay man who was found dead in Corozal early on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

According to el Nuevo Día José Juan Jiménez Santiago, 55, was found in front of a local business around 6:40 a.m. with head and shoulder wounds. The newspaper reported that investigators have yet to uncover a clear motive behind Jiménez' murder, but his death has shaken the town.

Jiménez' life-long friend, Jorge Marrero García, told el Nuevo Día that he last saw him around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Jiménez asked Marrero for $5 to buy some hamburgers, but the newspaper reported that he did not tell him where he was going. Investigators said that they know that Jiménez visited a late night restaurant and a cafeteria with four other people after Marrero last saw him.

An investigator told Primera Hora that those who had gathered at the scene suspected that Jiménez was gay, but relatives did not provide any details of his possible sexual orientation to the police. The newspaper further reported that Jiménez's family told investigators that they did not suspect his death was a hate crime.

El Nuevo Día reported that Jiménez's parents had recently passed away, and he had lived in his mother's cousin's home for nearly three decades. "He was a good man and all I want to know is who did this," Matilde Santiago told the newspaper.

Nearly two dozen LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered on the island since late 2009-including Ashley Santiago Ocasio, a transgender woman who was found stabbed to death in her Corozal home in April 2010. Gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado's decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found dumped along a remote roadside near Cayey in Nov. 2009.

Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression were added to Puerto Rico's hate crimes law in 2002, but prosecutors have not convicted anyone under the statute since it was adopted. The Justice Department concluded in a damning report on the Puerto Rico Police Department it released last month that the agency's response to hate crimes on the island remains inadequate.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told EDGE that local authorities have an obligation to investigate whether Jiménez' death is a hate crime.

"It is imperative that in this case the authorities follow Prosecutor General Obdulio Meléndez's order that prosecutors investigate the hate angle in all crimes committed against any member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender community," he said.

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.