Radio-Canada has learned that the key witness in the May killing of a Quebec man in Mexico was also found murdered — one week after he gave a deposition to Mexican authorities.
Victor Masson, 27, was shot dead in the Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast on May 15. Prosecutors said the Saguenay, Que., man's body was found in his car in a neighbourhood where few tourists stay.
One week later, a Mexican eyewitness, Sergio Ruiz Luengas, gave a statement to investigators, obtained by Radio-Canada, in which he identifies a man named Mario Omara Sanginez Lopez as the person responsible for Masson's death. Sanginez Lopez was formally charged with homicide under the Mexican penal code in June.
The Oaxaca state attorney general confirmed to Radio-Canada that Ruiz Luengas was the victim of a homicide at the end of May. The prosecutor's office refused to specify whether there is a link between the two murders, or whether the most recent was aimed at silencing the witness.
Masson's family only learned of the witness's death two months after it happened.
"It was a big shock. It's like being in a movie — a very bad movie," said Édouard Masson, the victim's brother.
"I would never have wanted this to happen to this man, who was immensely courageous. He had seen everything. He decided to go to the police and do the right thing. So for him to be murdered, I think it's an injustice."
Édouard Masson, the victim's brother, says his family has received little support from the Canadian government. (Priscilla Plamondon Lalancette/Radio-Canada)
A week after Masson's death, Ruiz Luengas told investigators that he was walking down the street when the Quebecer was killed in front of his eyes in the middle of the night, in Puerto Escondido.
In his deposition, the witness said the accused "pulled out a pistol and fired twice at the driver of the grey car."
He also recounted how the accused approached him at gunpoint and threatened to settle the score if he told anyone what happened. By the time he met with police on May 22, Ruiz Luengas said he feared for his life.
Radio-Canada obtained the testimony of witness Sergio Ruiz Luengas, who was murdered just days after giving his statement to police. (Radio-Canada)
"Mario Omar threatened me, saying he'd kill me if I talked. So I'm afraid he'll make good on his threats," he told investigators.
The witness was killed days later in circumstances that Mexican authorities refuse to disclose due to the ongoing investigations.
Murder does not jeopardize Masson's case
The Oaxaca state attorney general says the murder of this key witness does not jeopardize Masson's case.
"The death of the citizen, a witness to the events that led to the opening of the criminal trial, in no way affects the process since, according to article 386 of the Criminal Code, his statement can be entered into evidence at a time deemed appropriate," a statement reads.
The defence will nevertheless be able to object to his testimony being admitted in court, since it will be impossible to cross-examine him.
An arrest warrant was issued for the accused on May 25. The following day, he made his first appearance for Masson's murder and was formally charged on June 1, according to a news release issued by the Oaxaca state attorney general.
Considering the latest developments, the prosecutor's office says the judge has granted a one-month extension for police to wrap up the investigation. The next hearing date has been set for Sept. 18, when the prosecution will present the evidence against the accused.
Lawyer quit for fear of reprisal, family says
Masson's family says the lawyer representing them in Mexico has withdrawn from the case for fear of reprisal.
"It's creating a lot of stress. The lawyer who represented us in Mexico feared for her own safety and left the case," said Masson's brother.
The family says they've received little support from the Canadian government and has quickly had to find a new lawyer to ensure they understood the legal process, which is conducted in Spanish.
"I'm extremely disillusioned with the services offered to Canadians and to families who suffer horrible things abroad," Masson said.
New details in Masson case
A few days after the slaying, authorities said that Masson's killing stemmed from an altercation with people he had met the previous night over an unpaid bar tab at a local establishment.
Masson had been visiting Oaxaca with his Mexican girlfriend, arriving just a day before the killing.
The investigation revealed that Masson met four people — two men and two women, including the accused — at the establishment. When it came time to pay the bill, there was an altercation between the victim and the people he'd met.
The victim's family discovered a short video taken from Masson's cellular phone showing the four people in question at the bar.
Before he died, the Quebec tourist sent a voice message to his girlfriend, suggesting that he was in danger. He mentioned that he had been approached by a group of individuals. Masson later called 911, saying he had been robbed.
Before he died, Masson sent a voice message to his girlfriend suggesting that he was in danger. (Submitted to Radio-Canada)
In the statement he gave to police before being murdered, Ruiz Luengas recounts that Masson was killed at around 1:45 a.m. on May 15, on Emiliano Zapata Street in Puerto Escondido.
The witness was on his way to a friend's house when a motorcycle, carrying a man and two women, passed him and parked near an apartment. He said he recognized the accused, as he had known him from around the area for about a year.
In his statement, Ruiz Luengas said that a grey car arrived on the scene and that its driver, Masson, hit the motorcycle, still carrying a woman, and knocked it down. There was a quarrel between the four people, he said, and the accused allegedly threw a rock at the Quebecer's car before drawing his gun and fatally shooting him.
The accused then pushed Masson's body into the passenger seat and fled the scene, Ruiz Luengas said.
Police have confirmed that the location where the victim was found was not where he was killed.