Suspect in gay Puerto Rican teenager’s murder pleads guilty

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday May 12, 2010

The man prosecutors contend brutally murdered a gay Puerto Rican teenager late last year has pleaded guilty.

Juan José Martínez Matos, who had been scheduled to go on trial for Jorge Steven López Mercado's death on Monday, May 17, confessed to the crime during a hearing in Caguas on Wednesday, May 12.

Martínez told the court he understood the consequences of his actions, and Judge Miriam Camila Jusino immediately sentenced him to 99 years in prison.

Primera Hora reported López's parents, Myriam Mercado and Jorge López, hugged prosecutor Yaritza Carrasquillo after the hearing. Mercado told the newspaper, however, Martínez's confession was bittersweet for her and her family.

"We are able to find a bit of peace in this aspect, but it still not going to return Steven," she said. "But at least there is justice in Puerto Rico."

Jorge López evoked his faith.

"I want to send a message to Juan (Casper) and tell him there is hope in Christ," said López with tears in his eyes. "The lord has forgiveness for him, Irregardless of what has happened. God has a plan for him if he opens his heart to Christ. God will forgive him also."

Prosecutors contend Martínez stabbed López to death before he decapitated, dismembered and partially burned his body before dumping it along a remote roadside near Cayey on Nov. 12, 2009. The gay teenager's murder sent shockwaves across Puerto Rico and around the world.

Thousands of people in San Juan, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities around the United State held vigils, marches and other events in the days after López's death.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Illinois state Sen. Iris Martínez [D-Chicago,] who chairs the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus, were among those who met with local officials and activists in January. The delegation also condemned Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño for not publicly condemning the teenager's murder. And López's death renewed calls for Puerto Rican authorities to utilize the island's hate crimes law.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Lesbian & Gay Task Force, who was in Caguas when Martínez confessed to López's murder, told EDGE there was not a dry eye in the courtroom. He added López's family remains a source of inspiration for him and other LGBT Puerto Ricans.

"The family is sending a powerful message to the world of the love that conquers hate," said Serrano.

He further stressed his work on behalf of LGBT Puerto Ricans will continue.

"It was very emotional and it brings some closure, but those wounds will never heel," added Serrano as he further described Martínez's confession. "And we just have to work to ensure this does not happen again."

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.