MEXICO CITY – A judge has sentenced a general in the Mexican army to 52½ years in prison for ordering the torture of a suspect, then having his body burned, Mexico's federal judiciary council said Thursday.
The sentence was among the longest ever against a senior army officer.
The council said the conviction came in a 2008 case in the northern state of Chihuahua. The judge also ordered the army to publicly apologize, clear the victim's name and pay his family damages.
The judge in the case did not release the general's name in the public case record. But the case number on the docket was the same as one linked in local media reports to Gen. Manuel Moreno Avina, who formerly commanded an army unit in the town of Ojinaga, across the border from Presidio, Texas.
Troops under the general's command detained a suspect in a soldier's death and tortured him for hours with electric shocks until he died. They then took the man's body to a ranch and burned it.
The man was detained by soldiers just after midnight July 25, 2008. According to the council, the court found that soldiers "tied him up and watered him down in order to apply electric shocks on his body, in order to obtain information about the death of a soldier."
"They prolonged the torture until 9 a.m. that day, which caused the man to die despite attempts to revive him, quite possibly as a result of ventricular fibrillation and a heart attack brought on as an effect of the electric shocks," the council said.
"Under direct orders from the guilty party, the victim's body was loaded aboard a vehicle and taken to a ranch where it was secretly burned," it added.
Moreno Avina and more than 20 soldiers who were under his command had been charged with torture, homicide, drug trafficking and other crimes. It is unclear how many have been sentenced.
Mexican army officers have been sentenced before for corruption or aiding drug traffickers, but seldom for torture and seldom for such long sentences.
In 1997, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo was arrested after being appointed the country's top anti-drug official. He was later convicted of drug trafficking, racketeering and corruption and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The army has been stung in recent years by allegations of torture, abuse and executions.
This week, judges ordered two soldiers and three federal police officers to stand trial in connection with the torture of a young woman that was caught on video. The video circulated on social and traditional media in recent days shows a female soldier interrogating the woman, pulling her hair and putting the muzzle of a rifle against her head. Later, a female police officer suffocates the woman by putting a plastic bag over her head until she nearly passes out.
In Mexico's highest profile criminal investigation — the disappearance of 43 college students in 2014 — some of the suspects claim that marines tortured them into confessing to killing the students.
Three soldiers face homicide charges in civilian courts in the killing of suspects at a grain warehouse in 2014. Investigations have alleged that 12 to 15 suspects were executed after they surrendered.