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DATELINE TEXAS Border Stories 04 Arrest Sparks Protests BY ROSARIO SALGADO HALPERN AND BARBARA BELEJACK PresidioOn April 29, 42-year-old Jesus Manuel Herrera, known to his friends and family as “Junie,” crossed the border into Ojinaga for what was supposed to be a day at the races. But Herrera never came back. Instead, he was arrested at the track by Chihuahua State Police and charged with the February murder of journalist Jose Luis Ortega Mata. Herrera, who remains in prison in Ojinaga, insists that he is innocent and is the scapegoat in a tainted judicial process. Ortega had worked as a journalist for more than 15 years, was the president of the local journalists’ association, and occasionally wrote for publications on the U.S. side of the border. On February 19, the editor of the weekly El Semanario was shot to death. His body was found on the sidewalk next to his van; the motor was still running and the were lights on, his wallet and cameras intact. in New York 10 Mexican journalists were killed from 1990 1999 because of their work. The northern boider has become the most dangerous place for Mexican journalists to work because of the combination of drug-trafficking, corruption, and isolationreinforced by the out-of-sight/out-of-mind mentality that prevails in the media centers of.Mexico City, New York and Washington. There is also the Problem of murky relationships between reporters and the people they cover. CPJ is still investigating the deaths of two border journalists killed last year. And just weeks after Ortega was killed, the assistant editor of El Impartial, a Matamoros newspaper, was found shot to death. As CPJ’s Americas director Marylene Smeets points out, the issues on the border are especially complex and it’s often difficult to determine whether a journalist was killed because of his work or for other reasons. One of the last stories that Ortega worked on was a series of articles he published about a drug warehouse in Aldama, just outside Chihuahua, the state capital, that implicated state law enforcement officials. Had he been killed because of his work? Other sources, including the police chief of Ojinaga speculated that “a crime of passion” was involved instead. “After a reporter is killed, they always come up with all kinds of things about his personal life,” said Armando Bustamante, the owner of El Semanario. Bustamante is a U.S. citizen who lives in Odessa. He prints his free weekly newspaper in Pecos, a holdover from the bitter 1992 Chihuahua electoral season, when muckraking opposition journalists were threatened. \(One of them was Ortega’s brother, Armando. See “Election Day in 0-J,” July 24, 1992 by Jack D. Herrera makes clear, “border journalism” knows no borders. o matter what they come up, half the people won’t believe it,” Ojinaga Police Chief Rene Cardona, a former journalist, told John MacCormack of the San Antonio Express-News last February “They’ll think whoever is arrested is being made the scapegoat.” So far, Cardona’s predictions have proved accurate, as the proceedings against Junie Herrera have done little to explain what happened to Ortega and why. The day after Herrera’s arrest, his friends and family joined reporters from both sides of the border in a small, sweltering office to listen to listen to the evidenOe being presented against the third-generation Presidio resident, whose family owns and manages the oldest grocery store in town. They listened in disbelief as court officials read into the record an eyewitness account by a woman named Guadalupe Valenzuela Lozano of Ojinaga, implicating Herrera in the death of the 37-year-old El Semanario editor. Valenzuela had reported that on the night of February 19, she saw a man, whom she described as short and moreno, or dark= skinned, fire the shots that killed Ortega. Then the assassin drove away in his truck, she said. Herrerra is tall with a fair complexion. As the initial proceedings came to a close, Chihuahua State Prosecutor Arturo Gonzalez and an entourage of reporters from the state capital breezed past the onlookers and surrounded the defendant. During the press conference that followed, reporters pointed out discrepancies in Valenzuela’s testimony. But Gonzalez persisted, saying that his office had sent a team of the best homicide investigators in the state to Ojinaga and that there was a declaration from a witness that “had all the characteristics to sustain the arrest.” He did not provide a motive. Herrera has said that he knew Ortega only as a customer at the grocery store. In protest of his arrest, Herrera’s supporters from both sides Jesus “Junk” Herrera, a third generation Presidio resident, faces murder . charges in Mexico. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/25/01