Published December 22, 2016
Two suspects have been arrested in the brutal stabbing deaths of a family of eight in Mexico over a 1,500-peso ($115) dog-breeding debt as grieving neighbors and friends struggle to understand the horrific killing of a religious family - including three young children.
One of the suspects told journalists Wednesday that he stood guard outside the home as a second man detained in the case stabbed the victims to death in a dispute over a 1,500-peso ($115) dog-breeding debt.
"They, the family, were honorable people, dedicated to the church and to God. They would come to the church's meetings every Thursday and Sunday. This is something I can't explain. We are in shock."
The shocking details of Sunday's massacre, and widespread lack of confidence in the justice system of Ciudad Juarez over suspicions that confessions have been tortured from innocent people, led prosecutors to present the two men in custody to the press and allow journalists to ask them questions.
Neither appeared physically mistreated, but only one of them, Jesus Mendoza Hernandez, 21, spoke to reporters. He said the other suspect, Edgar Lujan Guevara, 31, was the one who actually carried out the killings.
"I was guarding the door, but I didn't kill anybody," Mendoza Hernandez said.
He said the two had gone to the family's home a month ago to collect a debt that he said was owed by Maximo Romero Sanchez, the head of the family, for a stud fee for his dog. At that time, Romero Sanchez said he didn't have the money, Mendoza Hernandez said.
When the suspects returned Sunday seeking to collect and Romero Sanchez once again told them he didn't have the money, the family members were stabbed to death, assistant state prosecutor Enrique Villarreal Macias said.
Mendoza Hernandez told reporters he heard screaming at one point, went inside and saw Romero Sanchez and one woman dead. He said at that point he took 2,500 pesos ($192) from the pockets and purses of people at the home and then left.
Villarreal Macias said two other suspects, still at large, also participated in the killings, piling the corpses of three young children atop those of five adults on beds in the home.
Mendoza Hernandez said that he and Lujan Guevara acted alone.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors suggested the killings were over a debt related to dog fighting, not dog breeding.
There was no clear explanation why the young children were killed, although prosecutors speculated that because the suspects lived nearby and one of them knew the family, they may have feared the children could identify them.
Earlier in the day, the chief prosecutor in the northern state of Chihuahua, Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas, said that "the situation got out of control and that's why they killed them." He said the killers took money and three vehicles from the property.
Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte told local media that the government would seek life sentences for the killers if convicted. While life sentences are rare in Mexico, in 2010 the Chihuahua state legislature approved a law introducing life imprisonment for certain murder cases, including multiple murders or torturing victims before killing them.
About 150 people gathered Wednesday night at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Ciudad Juarez for the funeral service of four members of the family whose head, Maximo Romero Sanchez, worked as a mechanic and fixed and sold used cars.
"They, the family, were honorable people, dedicated to the church and to God. They would come to the church's meetings every Thursday and Sunday," church elder Ismael Toribio said. "This is something I can't explain. We are in shock."
Earlier in the day, prosecutors said the killers had gone to the family's home a month ago trying to collect a debt that was owed by Romero Sanchez for a $115 stud fee for a dog. At that time, Romero Sanchez said he didn't have the money.
When the suspects returned Sunday and Romero Sanchez once again told them he didn't have the money, the family members were bound, gagged and stabbed to death in their home in a poor neighborhood. Killed along with Romero Sanchez were his wife, their 4- and 6-year-old children, and four other relatives, including a 2-year-old.
Church elders said they never heard about Romero Sanchez's family having any problems.
"Why (did this happen), you ask?" church elder Daniel Sierra asked the congregation. "Because Satan is the ruler of this land."
Violence in Ciudad Juarez
Dozens of friends and relatives of the two suspects demonstrated late Tuesday outside the prosecutors' offices in Ciudad Juarez, claiming authorities had detained innocent men in their rush to prosecute.
"The people you have behind bars are innocent! Do your job!" the crowd chanted.
Pressure on authorities to solve such crimes has increased since Ciudad Juarez was hit by another mass killing in September. Two gunmen burst into a home east of the city and killed a 7-year-old girl, her mother, three teenage boys and five adult men who were celebrating a baseball victory. A trophy from the baseball game was found at the home.
Betting on baseball, or possible resentment over the team's victory, were suspected as possible motives in that crime.
Investigators appear to have all but ruled out drug-gang involvement in the recent killings in a city that has suffered years of drug cartel violence.
Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, has seen a decline in drug violence, with 341 homicides recorded in the first eight months of this year, down from 952 killings by gangs in the first half of 2012 and 1,642 in the first half of 2011.
Dating back to the series of killings of young women in the 1990s, prosecutors in Ciudad Juarez have been suspected of torturing suspects to obtain confessions.
Earlier this month, Mexico's Supreme Court decided to free a man who claimed soldiers tortured him into confessing to having played a role in a 2010 massacre in which 15 people were killed at a birthday party in a Ciudad Juarez working-class neighborhood. That massacre was believed to have been a case of mistaken identity, with members of a drug gang attacking the party because they wrongly thought people from a rival group were there.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.