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Mazatlan beating suspect claims confession extracted after torture

February 3, 2012

The case of a Canadian woman assaulted in a Mazatlan hotel last month refuses to die down, with the plot thickening on a seemingly daily basis.

Last weekend, a Mexican man admitted to the attack and the case appeared to be closed. Now the defendant claims he has been made a fall guy.

Jose Ramon Acosta Quintero, 28, says he was tortured into confessing by Sinaloa police who, amid rising concern over tourist safety in Mexico, were under pressure to solve the case quickly.

Acosta has retracted his confession, telling a judge on Tuesday that state investigators coerced him into admitting responsiblity for the brutal attack that left Sheila Nabb, 37, in a coma for several days.

A Mazatlan resident who also goes by the alias El Ray, Acosta was arrested last Friday and paraded before reporters the following day to admit his guilt. The suspect repeated a statement in Spanish and English, saying he was drunk and high on cocaine when he encountered Nabb, naked, in the hotel elevator.

Acosta said he had spent the day drinking heavily with a Canadian friend. After running out of beer, they went to the hotel’s 24-hour bar which provides free drinks to guests. He “was very, very drunk,” having consumed 19 alcoholic beverages and a line of cocaine when Nabb entered the elevator he was in.

Acosta said they chatted normally but then argued when he tried to stop her leaving the elevator. The accused said he panicked when Nabb started yelling for help and then punched her several times in the face.

Acosta had no cuts or bruises on his hands when a reporter at the press conference asked him to display them, despite having allegedly broken nearly every bone in Nabb’s face with his bare fists. He now says this confession was made under coercion, with police fabricating details in statements he was forced to sign.

“Things that they put in, they added, that I never said or did. I signed off on it anyway, because that day, they hit me, they gave me electric shock, they slapped me, they kicked me, everything,” Acosta said at a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday.

The defendant said his original statement “has a lot of false things in it.” He told the court the police officers who took him into custody did not have an arrest warrant. He was subjected to electric shock in the police station, he said, lifting his shirt to show the courtroom his abdomen.

“Then they took me to the Hotel Riu. At the hotel they put me in the elevator, then they made me walk around various parts of the hotel,” he said, under questioning from his defense lawyer. Acosta said he was then put in a police van and tortured again.

“They gave me electrical shocks in my private parts. They told me they were going to make me sterile,” he said, showing marks on his left breast, abdomen and bicep. Acosta said he was threatened by the officers and had not spoken out earlier because he was “under a lot of pressure,” from prison guards.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, Martin Gastelum, declined to respond to Acosta’s allegations, saying only that police and prosecutors had done a good job. Gastelum added that in Acosta’s house, police had found his “clothes stained with Sheila Nabb’s blood, among other evidence that we found against him.”

The justice system is notoriously flawed in Mexico, with show arrests and pre-trial public confessions all too common. Jury trials are rare, fabrication of evidence is common and false confessions are by no means unheard of.

Following the preliminary hearing, the judge said any confession obtained by coercion would be invalid, but Acosta must prove that he was tortured. The judge formally charged Acosta with attempted murder late on Wednesday. He faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The trial can officially begin under Mexican law now that charges have been made.

Having initially been treated in a Mazatlan hospital, Nabb was transferred via air ambulance to the Foothills Medical Centre in her home town of Calgary last Friday.

Her husband Andrew Nabb released a statement on Thursday, saying, “The past few weeks have been very difficult for Sheila and the rest of our family. She has been through a lot and is now in hospital in Calgary, with myself and her family at her side.”

He added, “On Saturday (January 28), Sheila had extensive reconstructive surgery; a procedure which the doctors say was successful. Since this time she has spent a few days recovering in the Intensive Care Unit. Although she is still sedated, she has been very responsive and we are happy to see small improvements every day.”

Nabb was on vacation with her husband at the five-star Hotel Riu Emerald Bay in Mazatlan’s Punta Cerritos when the attack happened. She was discovered in the early hours of January 20, lying naked in a pool of blood in a hotel elevator.

Andrew Nabb was questioned and then released by police immediately after the incident. The authorities originally said security camera footage from the elevator showed Nabb being attacked by another foreign tourist in his twenties. They later identified the suspect as Acosta, despite his typically Mexican appearance.

Acosta was investigated for rape in 2008, according to the state attorney general, but there is no evidence that Nabb was sexually assaulted. It is unclear why she entered the elevator naked.

Another tourist from Nabb’s home town of Calgary came forward this week, saying he was almost involved in an altercation with Acosta when he stayed at the Hotel Riu two months ago. Michael Munro, 25, said a Mexican man with a Canadian friend appeared several times at the hotel bar throughout his stay, having entered through the beach entrance late at night.

“The Mexican guy would prowl on any drunk girl. Whenever a girl was stumbling, slurring her words, he would be on it immediately. He was very aggressive,” said Munro. “The Canadian guy, a pretty big guy, he was more his bodyguard.”

Munro said he and a friend argued with the pair and almost came to blows after the Mexican approached his friend’s girlfriend. Munro said he is “100 percent sure” the Mexican he saw at the hotel bar is Acosta.

The authorities are still trying to track down Acosta’s Canadian friend and his mother. State police say both have fled Mazatlan.

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