Friday, May 14, 2010

More than winning a verdict

As I look forward to another weekend on Fire Island, I would be completely remiss to not acknowledge a Puerto Rican family continues to grieve the loss of their beloved son.

Juan José Martínez Matos confessed on Wednesday he stabbed Jorge Steven López Mercado to death before he decapitated, dismembered and partially burned the gay teenager's body on Nov. 13, 2009. Judge Miriam Camila Jusino immediately sentenced him to 99 years in prison, but López's mother, Myriam Mercado, told reporters outside the Caguas courtroom Martínez's confession was bittersweet for her and her family.

"We are able to find a bit of peace in this aspect, but it's not going to return Steven to us," said an emotional Mercado as her husband, Jorge López, activist Pedro Julio Serrano and prosecutor Yaritza Carrasquillo stood by her side. "But at least there is justice in Puerto Rico."

Back here in Brooklyn, José Sucuzhañay's family continues to seek justice after one jury acquitted Hakim Scott of hate crimes charges and a judge declared a mistrial after a second panel could not render a verdict against Keith Phoenix. Prosecutors are scheduled to retry Phoenix on June 15, but both the Sucuzhañay and López cases clearly demonstrate the tragic and entirely unnecessary toll hate crimes can have on families and the communities in which they live and of which they are a part.

"This case dominates a lot of people in these communities and highlights the need to do so much more than to win a verdict," Ana María Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, told me earlier this week.


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