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Special Prosecutor in Colosio Killing Dropped from Case

August 13, 1996

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ President Ernesto Zedillo fired the latest in a series of special prosecutors assigned to solve the 1994 assassination of a top presidential candidate, prompting new public anger Tuesday over the murder.

Many Mexicans say they doubt authorities will ever find who was responsible for the killing of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the ruling party candidate gunned down at a Tijuana campaign rally.

``We will never discover the real assassin,″ said Rogelio Orosco, a 48-year-old mailman. ``While the government keeps removing these second-tier officials, the real authors of this crime remain at large.″

Zedillo ordered prosecutor Pablo Chapa Bezanilla removed from the case late Monday, five days after a federal judge rejected Bezanilla’s argument that a second gunman took part in the killing.

The judge’s verdict led the government to conclude that a new special prosecutor should be appointed ``to serve the ends of justice,″ Zedillo said.

Colosio, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was shot in the head and abdomen at the March 23, 1994, rally as hundreds of people jostled around him.

A Tijuana factory worker, Mario Aburto Martinez, was seized at the scene. Convicted of homicide, Aburto was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison.

But many people believe the assassination _ the most significant in Mexico in more than 60 years _ was the work of a conspiracy. Public frustration over the government’s failure to build a conspiracy case quickly led Chapa Bezanilla’s two predecessors to resign.

Chapa Bezanilla took over the Colosio case in December 1994. Within months, he made a stunning announcement of charges against a suspected second gunman.

His downfall came last week as a federal judge freed the second suspect, Othon Cortes Vazquez, saying Chapa Bezanilla had not proved the accusations.

Cortes, a ruling-party worker filmed at the scene, had been arrested in February 1995. At the time, Chapa Bezanilla hailed the detention as compelling evidence of a plot.

The exoneration of the second suspect was seen as a big setback for Attorney General Antonio Lozano Gracia, the only member of an opposition party in Zedillo’s Cabinet. After months of criticism for lack of progress in the case, there were even calls Lozano Gracia resign.

Lozano Gracia formally appealed the Cortes verdict on Tuesday, the official Notimex news agency said.

Zedillo ordered the attorney general to testify before commissions in the Mexican House and Senate and heed lawmakers’ instructions for proceeding with the investigation.

Colosio was the hand-picked successor to former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and was virtually assured victory in the August 1994 election.

Zedillo, Colosio’s campaign manager, was nominated to replace the assassinated candidate. He took office in December 1994, vowing a redoubled effort to solve the crime.

Officials first asserted there was a ``concerted action″ to kill Colosio, later that the factory worker acted alone, and still later, that it was a conspiracy after all.

The rocky investigation has done little to convince a skeptical public that justice can be served, or that a new prosecutor will shed any new light on the case.

``The waters ... are just as muddy as when this all began,″ said Justino Valdez, a 58-year-old accountant.

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