MEXICO CITY – A Mexican judge ordered the release of four soldiers accused of killing 22 civilians in Tlatlaya in the central Mexico state on Jun. 30, 2014, court officials told EFE on Monday.
The judge said there was enough evidence to revoke the arrest warrant against the four, issued last November, as the Federal Public Ministry, or MPF, was unable to explain the circumstances during the hearing, which led to the accusations.
The ministry was also not certain as to who had reported them for killing civilians after a shootout in which, according to the District Attorney’s Office, 14 people died and the remaining eight, some of them who were wounded, were killed by the soldiers.
The official said the defense had been botched in that hearing and so the four accused, who are being held in a military prison, could be released in the next few days.
Despite the order, however, the release is not yet effective as the soldiers are also undergoing military trial for other crimes, unrelated to the homicide.
The army had earlier claimed the 22 civilians had been killed during an encounter that followed an attack by the police but this version of the events were exposed in a media report, where a witness had accused the soldiers for the killings.
According to the witness’ testimony, also confirmed by the District Attorney’s Office, only one of the alleged offenders had died in the shootout while the rest were shot dead by the soldiers even after they surrendered.
Eight soldiers were arrested after the incident, among whom one has been released after he proved he had been wounded and never entered the warehouse where the encounter took place.
Tuesday’s release order now leaves three soldiers awaiting trial in a civilian court.
The federal judge, the court official told EFE, also stipulated a conflict of interest as the soldiers’ attorney is close to one of the accused and thereby unable to discharge her duties of defending the others properly.
Although the MPF can appeal the decision, it will not suspend the effects of the release order, which means the soldiers could be released shortly.