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Suspect in Puerto Rico Gay murder fit to stand trial
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Suspect in Puerto Rico Gay murder fit to stand trial

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Court psychiatrist Rafael Cabrera reversed his previous findings and declared Juan Jose Martinez Matos fit to stand trial for the murder of Gay teenager Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.

Cabrera announced his finding at a January 13 hearing before Judge Miriam Camila Justino in Caguas, Puerto Rico. At a hearing last December, Cabrera found Martinez "psychotic" and asked that he be held in a psychiatric hospital for observation.

"The quest for justice has begun," Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force texted reporters from inside the courthouse.

Martinez is charged with murdering Lopez on November 15, decapitating and dismembering him, and partially burning his remains.

When arrested, Martinez readily confessed to the killing but claimed extenuating circumstances.

He picked up Lopez thinking he was a female prostitute, Martinez told police, and became angry when he realized his error. In the ensuing scuffle, Martinez claimed, Lopez pulled a knife and he killed Lopez in self-defense.

Puerto Rican authorities have rejected Martinez's claims and promised to prosecute him under Puerto Rico's hate crimes law. The FBI's San Juan office has also been monitoring the case, to determine if Martinez should be prosecuted under federal hate crimes laws.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, told reporters in December that he is keeping a close eye on the case.

"That case is being investigated and prosecuted right now by the state of Puerto Rico as both a murder, and they do have a hate crimes law in Puerto Rico, so we're closely monitoring that case, as we do all cases, and we continue to follow that case very closely," he said.

In contrast to the US government, Puerto Rico's Governor Luis Fortuno has remained silent on the case, to the outrage of both local activists and US political leaders of Puerto Rican descent.

"There are a lot of people who are extremely angry about how the governor has responded to this situation," New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said as she spoke at a fundraiser for Lopez's family at the Nuyorican Poets Café on Manhattan's Lower East Side this week.

Quinn will travel with New York City Council members Rosie Mendez (D-Lower East Side) and Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem), and other New York political leaders to meet with Lopez's family and LGBT activists in Puerto Rico.

"Never doubt that the support from New York and from the community in New York enhances the struggle in Puerto Rico; we saw this with Vieques and we will do it for justice for Jorge Steven López Mercado," Mendez said, referencing the decades-long struggle to get the US Navy to abandon its weapons-testing facility on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

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