Juan Martinez Matos, 25, is being held on $4M bond in San Juan, Puerto Rico after confessing to the decapitation murder of 19 year-old gay teen Jorge Mercado. The killer is claiming “gay panic” after he discovered that Mercado, who was in drag, was a male.
Martinez met Lopez while looking for women Thursday night in an area known for prostitution, according to prosecutor Jose Bermudez Santos. Bermudez said the suspect confessed to stabbing Lopez, who was dressed as a woman, after discovering he was a man. “He has a deep-seated rage,” Bermudez said in remarks reported by the newspaper El Nuevo Dia. “All the information we have is very clear that this is indeed a hate crime,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a Puerto Rico native who is a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. A 2002 hate crime law in this U.S. territory has not been applied to any cases involving sexual orientation or gender identity despite calls to use it more aggressively, Serrano said.
A suspect convicted of a hate crime offense as part of another crime automatically faces the maximum penalty for the underlying crime. For murder, that would be life in prison. Serrano said he has identified at least 10 slayings on the island over the last seven years that should have been investigated as hate crimes, including some in which the victims were sex workers. Two U.S. Congress members from New York, who are of Puerto Rican origin, have suggested prosecuting the case under new federal hate crimes legislation that extended coverage to sexual orientation. President Barack Obama signed it last month. The FBI is monitoring the investigation, and Lymarie Llovet Ayala, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Juan, said Wednesday that federal prosecutors are considering whether to take on the case.
Vigils in memory of Jorge Mercado will take place across the United States this weekend. New Yorkers will gather at the Christopher Street Pier at 5pm on Sunday. (I will attend and provide coverage.) A website has been established with information about vigils in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Durham, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.