MEXICO CITY (AP) — Prosecutors are appealing a court ruling that dismissed sex crime charges because there was no proof the suspect acted "with lascivious intent," and judicial authorities announced Wednesday that the judge in the case had been suspended.
The ruling in the southern state of Veracruz shocked many in Mexico, where the case already had become emblematic of the impunity often enjoyed by wealthy males.
The teenage victim testified she was dragged into a car between two young men, one of whom fondled her breasts and the other introduced his fingers into her vagina.
The judge granted to one of the defendant's an injunction to dismiss the charges because "an incidental touching or fondling will not be considered sexual acts, if proof is not presented that it was done to satisfy a sexual desire."
Judge Anuar Gonzalez Hemadi also said the fact the victim was able to move to the front seat of the car after pleading with her attackers to stop proved she was not "defenseless," which he claimed the law required.
The Veracruz state prosecutors' office said it "roundly" disagreed with the ruling and would appeal because "it violates the rights of a sexual attack victim."
The Federal Judiciary Council, which is Mexico's court oversight agency, said that in serious cases such as this, the defendant would remain in jail while the appeal is decided. It said it had opened an investigation and suspended the magistrate.
The alleged sexual assault occurred in Veracruz in January 2015. The then 17-year-old victim was standing outside a club with friends waiting for her ride when four men, all wealthy and in their 20s, allegedly forced her into a black Mercedes. Two allegedly assaulted her in the car and when they arrived at one of their homes, she allegedly was raped by a third.
No charges were brought against the men until the girl's father started a public campaign denouncing them. They became known derisively through social media as "Los Porkys," after the 1981 movie about misbehaving U.S. teens in the 1950s.
People outraged by the latest ruling posted photos of the magistrate on social media sites, with the slogan "Judge Porky" and "Don't forget this face!"
The Network for Children's Rights in Mexico called the ruling "absurd."
"This ruling represents a serious step backward in the access to justice for girls and adolescent women who are victims of sexual violence, and set a precedent for impunity," the group said in a statement.
Social and traditional media played a key role in getting the defendants charged in the first place.
After authorities appeared to ignore the case for months, her father took the story to the press in 2015, along with a video of three of the men appearing to confess. The men have since denied wrongdoing.
Weeks of social media outrage over apparent impunity for the wealthy young men followed by daily reporting in Mexico's national television and print news outlets appeared to finally force the state to bring charges.
Many complained about the logic of the judge's ruling.
The victim "was not defenseless, given that she had the possibility of changing places (in the car) and thus avoiding the contact with the suspect," the judge said, even though the victim testified she had been pushed, had her cellphone taken away and was laughed at by the perpetrators when she pleaded with them to stop.
"There is no evidence of a look, a comment, an intent or a suggestion in the testimony that would prove an intention by the suspect to satisfy a carnal desire or excessive (sexual) appetite or eroticism," the judge wrote.
This story has been amended to correct the type of charges that were dismissed.