By: Mark Fitzgerald
Updated at 9:55 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
The U.S. citizen who financed the legal defense of two Huichol Indians charged with the 1998 murder of an American reporter said Tuesday morning that he now had evidence the men are guilty of the crime. The victim, Philip True, was the Mexico City bureau chief for the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News.
In a joint press conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, with Express-News Editor Robert Rivard and True’s widow Martha, Miguel Gatins, a U.S. citizen who lives in Guadalajara, made his surprise announcement. In a prepared statement, Gatins said he was ending “any support, moral or other” for the two accused men, and that he was authorized to reveal that their lawyer is quitting their case.
The development — nearly five years after True, 50, disappeared on a combined reporting trip and vacation to study Huichol culture — represents the first clear breakthrough in the tangled murder case against Juan Chivarra and his brother-in-law Miguel Hernandez. The two were found with True’s backpack, camera and notebook. They twice confessed to the murder and then retracted their accounts. They were convicted in May 2002 by a state tribunal that sentenced each to 13 years in prison — convictions that were later overturned by a federal court, outraging international press associations. Chivarra and Hernandez have been free for the last two years while that ruling is appealed by prosecutors.
Throughout their appeals, it was the expatriate Gatins who financed their defense. At Tuesday’s press conference, however, Gatins said, “I have no doubt today that Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez, for reasons that perhaps will never be fully understood, murdered Philip True in the Sierra Huichol in December 1998.”
Gatins said Patricia Morales, the defense team’s lead investigator, had informed him that Chivarra and Hernandez “had finally voluntarily offered a detailed account of their participation in the murder of Philip True.”
Rivard, in his prepared statement, said the investigator “learned the truth from Huichol elders” while traveling in the territory Huichol consider sacred. “We call upon the Huichol leaders who do know the truth about True’s death, to publicly state their support for the conviction and imprisonment of Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez,” Rivard said. “Philip True came to the Huichols as a friend and a journalist interested in telling their story. Nothing he did there can justify his murder.”
Martha True, who was pregnant with her now four-year-old son Theodore when her husband was murdered, said in a statement: “Now we can only wait and hope that the Mexican legal system will conclude its verdict to our favor and that true justice is finally made for Philip True, a man who had a tremendous respect and admiration for the Mexican culture.”
Gatins said he believed the Mexican judicial system will provide justice, and that the 2001 not-guilty verdict was “a correct, legal one” that was made without access to the “whole truth.”
“Concerning my involvement in this case,” Gatins said, “I know that just as some were surprised to see me defending two individuals accused of murdering a fellow American, others may now be surprised to see me today declaring, that based on the latest information, Juan and Miguel did commit this crime. Our participation in this case was always based on a search for truth and justice.”