February 7, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Puerto Rico police urged to investigate gay man’s death as possible hate crime

Gay News, Washington Blade, Puerto Rico, Hate Crimes

Pedro Julio Serrano (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

A Puerto Rican LGBT advocate continues to urge local authorities to investigate the murder of a gay hairstylist as a possible hate crime.

El Nuevo Día reported on Thursday that Richard Soto Vélez, 20, confessed to killing Milton Medina Morales on Feb. 3 after he said they went fishing in three local rivers near Mayagüez on the island’s west coast. Soto reportedly told investigators he became enraged after the two men were unable to catch anything and attacked Medina with a machete.

The newspaper said authorities found Medina’s partially burned body with its fingers cut outside Mayagüez on Monday.

“We ask the authorities to investigate the hate angle in this case,” Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told the Washington Blade. “We are not satisfied with the alleged confession that the killer provided. You don’t kill someone with such viciousness because of a disagreement or because you couldn’t fish anything.”

Medina’s death comes less than two months after the Puerto Rico Police Department agreed to strengthen its response to hate crimes as part of a broad settlement with the Justice Department.

Gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal 2009 murder highlighted the rampant anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth.

Serrano and other LGBT rights advocates routinely criticized local officials for not seeking prosecutions under the island’s hate crimes law that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is among those who blasted former Gov. Luís Fortuño for what they contend was his administration’s unwillingness to speak out against rampant anti-LGBT violence on the island.

Capt. Janice Rodríguez of the Puerto Rico Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIC) in Mayagüez told Primera Hora that Soto’s version of the events “are not clear.” She added authorities continue to investigate whether Medina’s sexual orientation prompted the suspect to allegedly kill him.

“There’s a hate that is probably deeply motivated and the authorities need to get to the bottom of it,” Serrano said. “The local law forces authorities to investigate the possible bias in this type of crime and we ask them to enforce it.”

Soto faces first degree, robbery and weapons charges in connection with Medina’s death.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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