Mar 31, 2019

Panelist reports threats prior to Canadian film screening that highlights Mexico violence

DZN: Panelist reports threats prior to Canadian film screening that highlights Mexico violence

Image is a poster for the film by Julian Elie.

The Digie Zone Network
March 29, 2019

An activist who was granted U.S. asylum after receiving an onslaught of death threats for denouncing women's murders in Mexico, was threatened recently in connection with her scheduled appearance as a panelist for the April 3 screening of "Dark Suns" in El Paso, Texas.

Marisela Ortiz, the activist, is co-founder of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, an advocacy organization that was devoted to exposing women's murders in Juarez, Mexico.

She confirmed that she received messages via social media, and plans to report them to the police. "I can't make it anyway, but I wish the film producers every success ," said Ortiz, who is based in El Paso.

Filming for the monochrome documentary "Dark Suns"/"Soleils Noirs/"Soles Oscuros" already took place in various regions of Mexico and in West Texas and Southern New Mexico.

The film garnered Grand Prize for Best Canadian Feature at the 2018 Montreal International Documentary Festival. describes the film as "An epic investigation into countless murders in Mexico. Presented in chapters, the film unfolds methodically through unsettling testimonials, sketching a portrait of an entire country transformed into a gigantic mass grave thanks to a climate of impunity established by both criminal gangs and state authorities."

It also won the 2019 F:ACT Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. The jury stated:

“The F:ACT AWARD goes to a film that gives voice to people who have suffered unbearable losses and have been neglected and ignored and forgotten by their government and authorities. In fact, the film convincingly suggests that those very authorities are themselves deeply involved in the immense tragedy that has been quietly unfolding through more than 20 years."

Dark Suns trailer 

Director Julien Elie said his staff is taking all the necessary safety precautions for the upcoming screenings in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. 

The screening, which is free to the public, is set for 6 p.m., April 3 at the University of Texas at El Paso Union Cinema Theater. 

A conversation will take place afterward with Elie and guests author-journalist Diana Washington-Valdez and criminologist Oscar Maynez.

Other screenings in the region:

Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, 8 p.m., April 4, Teatro Experimental Octavio Trias, CCPN / (*Función y Conversatorio)

Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico 4 p.m., April 4, Cineteca Chihuahua, Plaza Cultural Los Laureles.


Dec 14, 2018

El Paso serial killer loses mental disability claim, Texas court ruling

El Paso serial killer loses mental disability claim again, Texas court ruling

The Digie Zone Network
Staff report

David Leonard Wood/AP Photo
EL PASO, TEXAS – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected convicted serial killer David Leonard Wood’s request to continue with his mental disability appeal, court documents show.

The Dec. 12 ruling means Wood lost another attempt to avoid the death penalty on the basis of alleged mental disability, this time by arguing that past measures used to determine his level of mental disability did not take into account more modern diagnostic standards.

“The Court rejects Applicant’s intellectual disability claim by applying current diagnostic standards,” according to the majority’s written opinion of the 6-2 ruling. “Applicant is not intellectually disabled. He is a serial killer.”

A dissenting justice stated in a minority written opinion that Wood should be allowed to prove he is intellectually disabled according to “the current medical diagnostic framework,” as set out by a more recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving another death penalty case. 

The 61-year-old Wood was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 1992 for the deaths of six girls and young women whose bodies were found in shallow graves in 1987 in Northeast El Paso.

The victims were Desiree Wheatley, Karen Baker, Angelica Frausto, Rosa Maria Casio, Ivy Susanna Williams and Dawn Smith.

Wood denied killing anyone.

Gregory Wiercioch, a lawyer who represented Wood in the post-conviction appeal, could not be reached for comment immediately.

 “Wood didn’t have a mental disability then and he doesn’t have one now,” said John Guerrero, a former El Paso Police Department detective who was in charge of the task force that investigated the 1987 disappearances and murders that terrorized the community.

“He is a serial rapist who vowed that he would never go back to prison,” Guerrero said. “Desiree Wheatley and the rest of those young girls never got the chance to live a full life. Wood has lived much longer than they did.”

Earlier this year, Guerrero and Marcia Fulton, mother of Desiree Wheatley, were featured in Investigation Discovery’s “On the Case with Paula Zahn.” The episode about the 1987 murders which focused on Wheatley’s case was titled “Buried Dreams.”

Link to trailer of the Paula Zahn program

“I can’t think of why this is appeal after appeal,” Fulton said. “All I can do is wait and see and pray for justice.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which represented the state in the appellate proceedings, provided the following statement: “We cannot comment on pending litigation or announce plans for future litigation.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Wood a stay of execution in 2009, agreeing to allow him time to prepare his mental disability claim. He could be exempted from the death penalty if he proved that he is mentally disabled.

In 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Wood’s claim of mental disability.

Wood’s appeals lawyers filed new motions, challenging the basis on which the court’s 2014 mental disability decision was reached, and requested new DNA tests for evidence collected during the police investigation that led to Wood’s conviction.

Authorities have not reported the results of any DNA tests or if such tests were carried out successfully.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2002 that it was cruel and unjust punishment to sentence to death someone who is mentally disabled.

During Wood's most recent post-conviction proceedings, some of which took place in El Paso's 171st District Court before a visiting judge, witnesses and reports gave different IQ’s for Wood, ranging from 64 to 111. 

Witnesses also testified that Wood exhibited good adaptive social skills and was able to hold down jobs, including as an inmate. While in prison, witnesses testified, Wood read books and corresponded with relatives and pen pals.

In countering his mental disability claim, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals indicated in its Dec. 12 ruling that Wood committed the six murders in a methodical manner, and that a survivor’s testimony placed him in the same desert area where the six victims’ bodies were found in 1987.

Guerrero said Wood was also a police suspect in the 1987 disappearances of Marjorie Knox, a Chaparral, N.M. resident, and of El Pasoans Melissa Alaniz and Cheryl Vasquez; none of them were found or heard from again. Wood denied any connection to their disappearances.


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