Activist: Rights of US men jailed in Juárez were violated

by Adriana M. Chávez \ El Paso Times
Posted: 04/07/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT

A Mexican civil-rights official said two El Pasoans jailed in Juárez didn't receive a fair trial and were convicted despite flawed evidence and testimony.

Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission ombudsman Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson has agreed to represent Shohn Erich Huckabee, 23, and Carlos Guillermo Quijas Ruiz, 37, and has filed a writ of amparo, or a Mexican federal appeal, to overturn their convictions based on civil-rights violations.

Both men remain incarcerated at the Cereso prison in Juárez.

Mexican soldiers arrested Huckabee and Quijas Ruiz in December 2009 for allegedly carrying suitcases filled with 115 pounds of marijuana during a visit to Juárez.

Huckabee, who owned a construction company in El Paso, had traveled to Juárez with Quijas, one of his employees, to get his truck repaired while Quijas visited relatives.

In September 2010, a Mexican judge found both men guilty of having the drugs and sentenced them to five years in prison, despite testimony from several witnesses who said they saw Mexican soldiers plant the drugs in Huckabee's truck after their arrest.

One of the witnesses was later slain.

During a news conference Wednesday, de la Rosa Hickerson said the men's case captured his attention "due to the enormous violations in the legal process."

He said the soldiers claim they arrested the men at 9 p.m. Dec. 18, 2009, at a Juárez convenience store parking lot near the Bridge of the Americas.

Two soldiers told officials with the Chihuahua attorney general's office that they found the drugs but didn't turn over the two suitcases with the drugs until five hours after the men were arrested.

De la Rosa Hickerson said he believes the men were actually arrested at 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 2009 at a location a mile away from the convenience store. The men were tortured and beaten by the soldiers, who were looking for information on the location of a cartel hit man.

When Huckabee and Quijas Ruiz denied knowing anything about a hit man, de la Rosa Hickerson said, the soldiers planted the drugs and turned the men over to prosecutors.

"There are fundamental violations that are so glaring, even on a level of common sense," de la Rosa Hickerson said.

The writ of amparo is usually ruled upon within six months but can take longer in certain cases, de la Rosa Hickerson said.

If all goes well, the men may be released by the end of the year, he said.

On Tuesday, El Paso City Council members adopted a resolution asking U.S. and Mexican government officials to review their case. The authors of the resolution were city Reps. Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, who attended Wednesday's news conference along with the Huckabee family.

"What we're asking for is involvement in the process and to make sure the process has been just," said Shohn Huckabee's father, Kevin Huckabee.

"Anytime any of our American citizens are tortured, we need to get involved."

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at; 546-6117.

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