Statements Issued on Philip True Murder Case

GUADALAJARA, Mexico--()--Nov. 25, 2003--New information in the Philip True murder case was made public at a press conference today at Guadalajara's Hilton Hotel.

December marks the fifth anniversary since True, the Mexico City bureau chief for the San Antonio Express-News, was murdered while traveling alone in Huichol territory near the Jalisco-Nayarit state border.

Miguel Gatins, a principal figure in the defense of the two accused Huichols, publicly ended his support of the men. A U.S. citizen and Guadalajara resident, Gatins announced his decision to end his support after new evidence came to light convincing him of their guilt. Gatins, who has paid the legal fees for the defense lawyer in the case, declared today he will no longer support their defense. Their conviction remains on appeal in the Jalisco state courts.

Martha True, Philip True's widow, and Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, also read statements today.

All three statements follow:

Miguel Gatins:

Almost two years after the initial verdict that set the defendants free, I received information from Lic. Patricia Morales, the lead investigator for the defense, who advised that Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez, had finally voluntarily offered a detailed account of their participation in the murder of Philip True. With this latest information, I have no doubt today that Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez, for reasons that perhaps will never be fully understood, murdered Philip True in the Sierra Huichol in December 1998.

I have been authorized by Lic. Arturo Zamora, the lead counsel for the defendants in the appeals process, to inform you that he and his co-counsels have officially removed themselves from the case in the interest of justice. I would like to note that Lic. Zamora joined the defense team at our invitation and in part based on our conviction, at the time, as well as on the evidence presented by the State, that the defendants were innocent and I would like to personally express my appreciation for his many efforts which were made without benefit of compensation.

As concerns the motive offered by the defendants, I would like to offer just two brief comments. It is interesting to note that in Philip's journal, when he describes a certain tense encounter with Juan (Chivarra), he writes: "Cuentan historias de algunos prospectos que fueron encarcelados y rechazaron permiso para buscar minerales y los sacaron a fuerza. Por un rato, me las vi negras". Also, it has become quite clear to me that the beliefs, customs and perceptions of the Huicholes' ancestral homeland and culture, are something that we, as mestizos and foreigners, understand very little.

In any event, whatever the motive, there is no justification for the murder of a fellow human being. I think we can all agree that no system of justice is perfect, not in Mexico and not in the United States. As members of society, I believe that we are weary of so many similar cases, famous and not so famous, that were never satisfactorily resolved, leaving doubts and creating distrust in our institutions. Guadalajara is not Ciudad Juarez and I know that neither the authorities nor we ever had any interest in covering up the truth.

I have no doubt that the verdict of not guilty rendered by Judge Jose Luis Reyes Contreras in August 2001 was a correct legal decision, based on the confusing evidence presented by the State. At the same time, I recognize that when this decision was given, there was a feeling that we had not discovered the whole truth in this case and that many questions remained unanswered.

Today, both sides find ourselves sitting at the same table, with mutual respect, perhaps not agreeing on all points but bound by a higher sense of moral obligation, to share this latest information for your consideration and judgment. It is our hope that the Jalisco Judicial system can thus bring this case to a just and legal conclusion as soon as possible.

Concerning my involvement in this case, I know that just as some were surprised to see me defending two individuals accused of murdering a fellow American, others may now be surprised to see me today declaring, that based on the latest information, Juan and Miguel did commit this crime. Our participation in this case was always based on a search for truth and justice.

I would like to share that this has been for me and my family a challenging yet positive experience. Much is being discussed today, in Mexico, of the need for more transparency in the judicial system as the country continues on its course to a fuller democracy. I can tell you that, in this particular case, the authorities including the judicial system of Jalisco, the Procuraduria and even the office of the Presidency were very open in allowing us to participate, as a friend of the court, and allow us the opportunity to present our case. I think this proves that the authorities are starting to accept civic participation, thereby assuring more transparency and fairness.

With this declaration, my involvement in this case and any support, moral or other, for the defendants comes to an end. In closing, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the family of Philip True, especially to Mrs. True, here with us today, for the anguish and pain she has had to endure in this personal tragedy and for a process which has been too long in closing and whose final chapter remains to be seen.

Mr. Rivard, I imagine you also have friends and associates who perhaps have recommended that you drop this case and just move on...however you and Mrs. True remind me of the U.S. military tradition of never leaving their dead or wounded behind. Your continued efforts, after so many years, to ensure that justice is served and the legacy of Philip is honored, is commendable.

Robert Rivard:

Nearly five years have passed since the death of Philip True, the reporter in Mexico for the San Antonio Express-News, our reporter in Mexico. We have made many visits to Mexico over these last five years, first to search for Philip when he disappeared and many times since then in search for justice.

Today we hope, once and for all, to end all doubts about the facts surrounding Philip's death in the Chapalagana five years ago. While we might never know everything about his killing or the motives of his killers, all now agree that Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez murdered Philip True, the two Huichol Indians charged in the case. Both men confessed to their crime at the time, and both men have since confessed their guilt to those who once defended them.

Five years ago, Huichol leaders said in a statement to the press that they wanted the truth to come out and they wanted to see Philip True's killers punished. We call upon the Huichol leaders who do know the truth about True's death, to publicly state their support for the conviction and imprisonment of Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez. Philip True came to the Huichols as a friend and a journalist interested in telling their story. Nothing he did there can justify his murder.

As Philip True's editor, let me say a few words about the other individuals close to this case. The widow Martha True, the mother of her slain husband's son, Philip Jr., has endured five long years waiting for justice in the Mexican courts. Many other victims would have given up hope and lived forever with such an injustice. Martha True has never given up, and we hope today's developments will lead to a just verdict and allow her the closure she deserves.

I want to thank the lawyer Patricia Morales, who first contacted me months ago to share with me the truth after she learned the defendants were guilty of the crime. I want to thank her for traveling to Huichol territory to investigate the case, and when she learned the truth from Huichol elders, for having the strength to confront the two defendants and obtain the truth from them, too.

I also want to thank Miguel Gatins, our fellow American, and your fellow resident of Guadalajara, who was once our adversary. Today he sits alongside us, after learning the two Huichol men he once defended are guilty. I want to recognize his courage and moral strength in deciding to meet with the press and the public. He could have stayed silent, and never shared the truth. Miguel Gatins and his wife, Ruby Gatins, spent their own money to assure that Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez had the best possible legal representation.

Finally, I want to thank Arturo Zamora, president-elect of the municipality of Zapopan and the defense lawyer in this case, for allowing Miguel to share with the press the news of his resignation in this case.

Those who once believed in the innocence of Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez no longer believe that today, and no longer defend them. Today we believe the matter is settled in the court of public opinion. We call upon the Mexican judges to render a final and just verdict.

Martha True:

I appreciate your interest in being here this morning. It has been five years since the assassination in the Huichol land of my husband, Philip True, correspondent of the San Antonio Express News. My husband was murdered by Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez. They both admitted their crime and confessed their guilt to the legal authority on two different occasions. Nevertheless, these two men are free at the present time in the Mexican territory. I find it very difficult to believe that the Mexican government could offer a logical reason to justify the freedom of these two killers. Today, I find myself sitting on the same table with Mr. Miguel Gatins and as all of you are aware Mr. Gatins was the person who offered financial assistance to help with the defense of Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernandez. But today it is hard to believe that Mr. Gatins is here on my side, but most of all on the justice side because he has realized that Mr. Chivarra and Mr. Hernandez are guilty.

By no means Mr. Gatins was influenced by me or anyone else. His decision is based on information researched and obtained by him which took him to the conclusion that these two men are guilty of killing my husband. I recognize Mr. Gatins' effort in looking for justice and his courage to recognize it to the public opinion.

Now we can only wait and hope that the Mexican legal system will conclude its verdict to our favor and that true justice is finally made for Philip True, a man who had a tremendous respect and admiration for the Mexican culture.

Mr. Gatins, Mrs. True, Ms. Morales and Mr. Rivard are available for follow up questions and telephone interviews.

For further information, please contact Minea Nieto, San Antonio Express-News, Mexico City bureau administrator, at 011-52-55-5211-8919 or


San Antonio Express-News, Mexico City
Minea Nieto, 011-52-55-5211-8919


San Antonio Express-News, Mexico City
Minea Nieto, 011-52-55-5211-8919