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Judge rules Mexico's ex-attorney general to go to trial in missing students case

Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam gives a news conference in Mexico City, Dec. 7, 2014.
Marco Ugarte
/
AP
Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam gives a news conference in Mexico City, Dec. 7, 2014.

MEXICO CITY — The former attorney general who oversaw Mexico's original investigation into the 2014 disappearances of 43 students from a radical teachers college will go to trial on charges of forced disappearance, not reporting torture and official misconduct, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam conceded there may have been "errors" in the investigation, but he said that in the eight years since no one has been able to prove another version of what happened to the students in the Guerrero state city of Iguala.

Murillo Karam, 74, served as attorney general from 2012 to 2015, under then President Enrique Peña Nieto. He was arrested by agents of the office he used to lead last week for allegedly creating a false version about the students' disappearances.

The judge also ruled that Murillo Karam remain in jail as the case moves forward.

Murillo Karam announced in 2014 that the students had been abducted by local police, turned over to a drug gang, killed, their bodies burned at a garbage dump and the remains dumped in a river. He called it the "historic truth."

But independent investigations and the current Attorney General's Office have discounted that version. They assert that various levels of authorities were involved, including security forces and that evidence and crime scenes were altered. There were also instances of torture, improper arrest and mishandling of evidence that has since allowed most of the directly implicated gang members to walk free.

On Wednesday, Murillo Karam told the judge that there could have been "errors," problems and things that they did poorly, but that no one had been able to present another version of what happened to the students.

He took aim at a group of Argentine forensic experts who conducted their own investigation and raised questions about the government's version of events.

"For six or seven years they have looked for an alternative, they've made up a lot of things and all of it collapses," Murillo Karam said.

Murillo Karam's lawyers argued that news conferences he gave while attorney general should not be considered in the judge's decision because they violated his right to not incriminate himself and because prosecutors were taking the statements out of context.

But prosecutors said Murillo Karam was aware of the torture of suspects, was unusually present in the field during the investigation and interviewed suspects, demonstrating that he was in control.

The missing were students at a teachers college called Ayotzinapa in the southern state of Guerrero. On Sept. 26, 2014, police took them off buses in Iguala. The motive remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, though fragments of burned bone have been matched to three of the students.

The incident occurred near a large army base, and independent investigations have found that members of the military were aware of what was occurring. The students' families have long demanded that soldiers be included in the investigation.

Last week, arrest warrants were issued for 20 army soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police officers as well as 14 gang members. Neither the army nor prosecutors have said how many of those suspects are currently in custody.

Murillo Karam's arrest was the first of a former attorney general in recent history.

In 2020, the current attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero, said Murillo Karam had been implicated in "orchestrating a massive media trick" and leading a "generalized cover-up" in the case.

His arrest came a day after a commission set up to determine what happened said the army bore at least partial responsibility in the case. It said a soldier had infiltrated the student group involved and the army didn't stop the abductions even though it knew what was happening.

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