Mexican court dismisses charges against man involved in attempted murder of Zeta magazine’s Jesús Blancornelas

  • By
  • September 9, 2013

By Larisa Manescu

A man involved in the attempted murder of the founder and former editor of the Mexican magazine Zeta was absolved of the charges Thursday.

Marco Quiñones Sánchez, or “El Pato,” was arrested in 2003 for multiple charges, one of them being his involvement with the 1997 shooting of Jesús Blancornelas, in which Sánchez operated as a hired assassin for the Tijuana Cartel. The attack left Blancornelas with a grave spinal cord injury and killed his bodyguard. Both charges were dropped, but on Monday news reports did not offer more information on the federal judge’s reasoning for dismissing them. Sánchez will remain in jail to finish his 12-year sentence for other charges related to organized crime.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization based in New York City, said it was "outraged" with the news that Sánchez has been found not guilty of the crime.

"Zeta has been constantly targeted by criminal groups for its unrelenting reporting on drug trafficking," wrote Carlos Lauría, CPJ's Americas senior program coordinator. "This ruling sends a chilling message to the Mexican press and highlights the country's dismal record of impunity in journalists' killings.”

Blancornelas and Zeta magazine have received various awards for their coverage and investigations. In 1996, CPJ presented Blancornelas with the International Press Freedom Award. He also received the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 1999, and Mexico granted him the National Journalism Award for In Depth Reporting in 2001.

Founded in 1980 in Tijuana, where its headquarters still remain, Zeta magazine is known for its in-depth, investigative pieces on government corruption and drug trafficking in Mexico. This distinction is a proud one for the magazine, considering that many Mexican media publications have stopped or limited their coverage of drug trafficking.

However, their detailed and resilient coverage makes the magazine’s reporters a target of attack for cartel members that don’t want the press attention. Héctor Félix Miranda and Francisco Ortiz Franco, co-founders of the magazine, were both killed in separate attacks in 1988 and 2004, respectively.

After the death of editor Ortiz, Blancornelas then insisted that no byline but his own appear on the magazine’s controversial investigative stories because he was given the assurance of a 24/7 government security force of more than a dozen soldiers following the murder attempt on his own life seven years earlier.

At the age of 70, Blancornelas died in of stomach cancer in 2006.

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism in the American continent. According to CPJ's figures, 76 journalists have been killed since 1992. That number is divided into two categories: 28 of the murders have proven motives related to the journalists’ work, while the remaining 48 are unproven. Of the total, 79% of the victims were covering crime and 29% corruption, although journalists may have reported on more than one category.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.