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WSJ: Presumption of Guilt

October 20, 2009

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Antonio Zuñiga's life changed when he went for a walk on Dec. 12, 2005. As he crossed a busy Mexico City avenue, two burly cops grabbed him from behind and shoved him into a patrol car.

So began a nightmarish journey into Mexico's legal system that seems lifted from the pages of Franz Kafka. For nearly two days, the street vendor was held incommunicado and not told why he was arrested. His questions met with hostile stares from detectives, who would say "You know what you did." He says in an interview that he only learned of the charges after walking into a holding cell and being asked by a prisoner: "Are you the guy accused of murder?"

Mr. Zuñiga, then 26, was charged in the shooting death of a gang member from his neighborhood. Ballistic tests showed Mr. Zuñiga hadn't fired a gun. Dozens of witnesses saw him working at his market stall during the time of the murder, which took place several miles away. And he had never met the victim. Still, he was found guilty by a judge at trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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