MEXICO CITY (AP) — Water-rights activists on Tuesday questioned the theory of Mexican state prosecutors that the killing of a state legislator-elect this month was orchestrated by his designated substitute.
The activists called for federal prosecutors to take over the case, saying the slain man was a strong opponent of a bitterly contested water project in the northern border state of Sonora.
Politicians in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which won Mexico's presidency in July 1 elections, also voiced doubts about the prosecutors' theory on the killing of their candidate, Eduardo Castro Luque, on Sept. 14 in the farming city of Ciudad Obregon. They noted the state government is run by the rival National Action Party and said it is too biased to properly oversee the investigation.
Sonora state prosecutors announced Monday that the killing was staged at the behest of Manuel Fernandez Felix, a 25-year-old engineering graduate who ran with Castro as his designated substitute — the person who would fill the legislative seat if Castro couldn't fulfill his duties.
The Citizen Movement for Water questioned why state prosecutors ruled out a dispute over an aqueduct being built to move billions of gallons of water from Ciudad Obregon to the state capital of Hermosillo. Castro had made his opposition to the project a central theme in his campaign and criticized the state governor for ordering construction to continue despite judicial orders to suspend it.
Group spokesman Alberto Vizcarra said the movement has asked the federal Attorney General's Office to take over the case.
"We don't trust the investigation is taking in consideration all different motives," Vizcarra said. "You should never rule out motives, especially in the case of a politician."
The state's top prosecutor, Carlos Navarro, has blamed the killing solely on Fernandez. He hasn't mentioned the water dispute or drug trafficking, which has caused violence in northern parts of Sonora.
Institutional Revolutionary Party members said they were stunned by what was declared to be the motive.
"When all this happened, his parents told us they didn't want him to take office because they were scared something would happen to him, too," said Adrian Manjarrez, the PRI chairman for Ciudad Obregon. Fernandez had to be persuaded to replace Castro, he said. "I am very shocked by these recent developments."
Manjarrez said Fernandez was in the party's limping progressive wing. He was chosen to run as Castro's substitute because PRI leaders were looking for younger candidates and other young politicians wouldn't do it because the race was considered a long shot, Manjarrez said.
Castro was shot to death outside his home by a man on a motorcycle the day before he was scheduled to take office.
Authorities said Fernandez was questioned for several hours over the two days after the killing but was let go and is now a fugitive. "We didn't have any solid evidence against this man" at the time, Navarro said.
The state prosecutor said four men had been arrested since then and told investigators they were hired by Fernandez to either buy the gun or the motorcycle used in the slaying or to actually kill Castro for 40,000 pesos, or $3,000. As often happens in Mexico, the suspects were taped during questioning and edited versions of the interrogations were uploaded to YouTube by state prosecutors.
Other elected-officials have been killed in Mexico before, sometimes for political motives.
In the southern Mexico state of Chiapas, police arrested a mayoral candidate for the shooting death of a rival party member in June. Earlier this year, a candidate in the southern state of Guerrero was slain outside his home.
Drug cartels have also orchestrated attacks on politicians. The highest profile was the ambush killing in 2010 of Rodolfo Torre, gubernatorial candidate in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
Associated Press writer Felipe Larios in Hermosillo contributed to this report.