February 8, 2013 at 8:47 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Puerto Rico man to face hate crime charge in gay hairstylist’s death

Gay News, Washington Blade, Puerto Rico, Hate Crimes

Pedro Julio Serrano (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

Puerto Rican officials on Thursday announced the murder of a gay hairstylist earlier this week was a hate crime.

El Nuevo Día and other local media outlets reported 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.

Primera Hora reported on Friday that prosecutor Yanixa Negrón Rosado will seek a first degree murder as a hate crime charge against Soto. He will also face weapons and destruction of evidence charges.

“This is a historic moment, because it is the first time a hate crime is an aggravating factor in a case,” Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force said in a statement late Thursday.

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 2002 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.

“We are confident that prosecutor Yanixa Negrón Rosado, as with Judge Linette Ortiz Martínez will maintain this mitigating factor and will prove it during the trial,” Serrano added. “[It] will set a historic precedent that will open the door to ensure that the other hate crimes will not go unpunished.”

A preliminary hearing for Soto, who remains held on $2 million bail, is scheduled to take place on Feb. 20.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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