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Family of death row hero gathers to mourn his death in highway accident

August 23, 1997

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ Nearly 100 relatives and friends of Ricardo Aldape Guerra, Mexico’s death-row hero who avoided execution in the United States only to die in a car crash, gathered for an emotional open-casket memorial service Friday.

The tears and sobs at the service _ one day after Aldape died in a car-truck accident _ formed a stark contrast with the cheering crowds that greeted him in Monterrey just over four months ago.

Then, Aldape had just been released after 15 years on Texas’ death row, after his 1982 conviction for the murder of a Houston policeman was overturned due to misconduct by prosecutors.

In April, he was a hero and symbol of the mistreatment of Mexicans in the U.S. legal system, and even was offered a role in a Mexican soap opera. On Friday, he was remembered as a gangly, hopeful, toothy 35-year-old who died before his time.

``The news (of his death) made us very sad because he was a young man who lost a lot of time in jail unjustly,″ said Claudia Gonzalez Mendez, a friend of Aldape’s who attended the Friday service.

Aldape’s body, dressed in a simple black suit with a gold crucifix clasped in his hands, lay in a coffin with a single red rose resting on the glass cover.

The hero-turned-soap opera actor was speeding on a rural highway in the northern state of San Luis Potosi Thursday when his 1991 Volkswagen Jetta rammed a truck. He later died of his injuries at a local hospital.

Police reportedly found a small amount of what they believe is marijuana in Aldape’s pocket at the time of the accident, the government news agency Notimex reported.

Family members supported Aldape’s mother, Francisca Guerra de Aldape, who faltered under the shock of her youngest son’s death, her own high blood pressure and 100-degree temperatures.

``Oh my God, so much pain,″ Guerra de Aldape cried repeatedly.

Aldape’s girlfriend, a secretary with the TV Azteca network who would give her name only as Tania, comforted the grieving mother.

``He wanted to marry your daughter and God didn’t permit it,″ Guerra de Aldape told Tania’s father, who also attended the service.

Aldape will be buried Saturday in the small town of Doctor Gonzalez, about 30 miles northeast of Monterrey.

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