Suspect Arrested in Grisly Murder of Gay Teen


A suspect has been arrested in the Puerto Rico murder of a gay teenager, which activists are asking authorities to classify as a hate crime.

Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, 19, was a well-known figure in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of Puerto Rico. His body was found on Friday in the small interior town of Cayey, having been decapitated, dismembered and partially burned. Now an arrest has been made in the case.

Authorities captured John A. Martinez late Monday night at his home in the Mogote de Cayey neighborhood. They have impounded two cars and, according to the local press in Puerto Rico, have seized a number of incriminating items from the home, including a burned mattress and PVC pipe, a wig and two knives. Additionally, a large bloodstain was found on one of the home’s walls.

Hate crimes are a federal offense in the United States, but despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and therefore federal agencies have jurisdiction there, no crime has ever been prosecuted as a hate crime in Puerto Rico.

The Federal Hate Crimes Law was enacted in 1969 to protect the rights of U.S. citizens engaged in certain activities, including voting, applying for a job or attending school. In October, President Obama expanded the law by signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, extending the protection against crimes motivated by a person’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

The killing and mutilation of Lopez Mercado has sparked international controversy, not least because
the local police agent who is handling the case made a televised public statement saying, “people who lead this type of lifestyle need to be aware that this will happen.” He has faced widespread criticism for the remark. Gay and lesbian activist groups in Puerto Rico and the United States have called upon both governments to classify Lopez Mercado’s death as a hate crime, and to prosecute Martinez accordingly.

According to authorities, the FBI is not directly involved with the case, but is monitoring the local investigation and may provide help with forensics or other investigative methods. Local officials will determine whether or not the killing can be classified a hate crime in conjunction with the U.S. attorney’s office.

It is unclear whether or not the killing involved sex or was the result of a sexual encounter gone awry.

Martinez was scheduled to attend a court hearing Tuesday night, at which charges would be brought against him.


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