International Human Rights Clinic secures release for man unjustly imprisoned in Mexico

February 28, 2012

On Tuesday morning, Mexican federal government representatives and officials from the state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico, released Mr. Ananías Laparra-Martínez from prison.  Mr. Laparra-Martínez, 63, had been incarcerated for more than 12 years for a crime that he did not commit.

In October of 1999, Chiapas police illegally detained Mr. Laparra-Martínez and beat him severely.  They tortured his 14-year old son in front of him and menaced his 16 year-old daughter with rape, all with the acquiescence of government prosecutors.  Under this extreme duress he was forced to sign documents confessing to a murder he did not commit.  Three family members were similarly coerced into signing corroborating declarations.  Despite informing the presiding judge of these reprehensible tactics, no torture was investigated.  Mr. Laparra-Martínez was convicted for murder on the basis of the illegally-obtained and completely false declarations.  He was sentenced to over 28 years in jail.

Laparra-Martínez and family

Ananías Laparra-Martínez celebrates his release with his wife, Rosa Godínez-Chávez, and daughters Rocío Laparra-Godínez and Amanda Laparra-Godínez.

Mr. Laparra-Martínez was singled out by judicial police because he was an easy target. Powerless and poor, his arrest would cause no objection and would provide authorities an effortless conviction.  Professor Thomas Antkowiak, who teaches the International Human Rights Clinic, stated that "coerced testimony is often permitted by Mexican courts, which foments widespread torture and other abusive practices by police."  The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and several other organizations have condemned Mexican security forces for their systematic use of torture to obtain confessions.

A turning point in the case was the presentation of the  Clinic's petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington, D.C.  A number of Seattle University law students contributed to the preparation of the extensive submission.  The Commission ordered the State of Mexico to improve Mr. Laparra-Martínez's detention conditions and medical treatment.  The Clinic then leveraged the international decision against government authorities.

"The Commission's decision gave us a new and meaningful opportunity to negotiate with officials from the state and federal governments," said Alejandra Gonza, co-counsel in the case.  After an intense period of negotiations-with key support from Ricardo Lagunes-Gasca, the Clinic's partner attorney in Mexico, and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights-the Clinic secured Mr. Laparra-Martínez's outright release.

The Clinic and its partners will continue to work on behalf of Mr. Laparra-Martínez and his family so that the Mexican government will provide them full remedies for the severe human rights abuses they have suffered since 1999.  These efforts include pending litigation before the Inter-American Commission, as well as initiatives with various Mexican authorities.