Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch recently sent a
letter on behalf of the group's 460,000 members to the Milwaukee
District Attorney expressing serious reservations about the investigation of
the murder of Juana Vega.
Juana Vega died on November 11 of multiple gunshot wounds to her face and
chest. Pablo Parrilla, the brother of Vega's ex-girlfriend Melodia "Ria"
Parrilla, assaulted Vega and shot her five times at point-blank range. Pablo
Parrilla objected to the relationship, and often used derogatory epithets to
reference the couple. He reportedly threatened to kill Vega for "turning his
At the beginning of the investigation, the DA met with the family
and local activists, showing a willingness to consider investigating the
case as a hate crime. Unfortunately, HRC's conversations with Vega's family
and friends show that it appears that the chief investigator in the case has
not examined or looked for such evidence pointing to a possible hate crime.
No new witnesses to the crime nor friends and family of the deceased have
"Regardless of any eventual homicide conviction in this case, HRC
believes that unless you fully investigate the possibility that this act was
a hate crime and charge the defendant accordingly if the evidence supports
it, justice will not be served," said Birch in the letter.
More concerning to HRC is the DA's suggestion to Vega's family on
December 17 that using Wisconsin's hate crime law in this case could result
in the defendant being convicted of a lesser charge. HRC's reading of
Wisconsin law suggests that such a scenario would be possible only if there
is evidence to support acquittal on the higher charge or the defendant
succeeds in using an "adequate provocation" defense. Both of these outcomes
seem highly unlikely to occur given the evidence revealed so far. But most
important, neither one is made more likely by charging the defendant with a
hate crime, says HRC.
"To imply that a defendant could be convicted of a lesser charge if a case
is pursued as a hate crime flies in the face of the intent of hate crimes
law in general and Wisconsin law in particular," wrote Birch. "Like every
other criminal statute, successful prosecution under a hate crimes law
depends on the quality of evidence and the determination of the prosecutor.
Your apparent reluctance to use Wisconsin's hate crimes statute is,
therefore, particularly disturbing to Ms. Vega's family and the gay and
lesbian community in Milwaukee," continued Birch. "Without your support,
justice in this case will never be complete."
The state of Wisconsin has provided a mechanism to enhance criminal
penalties when a crime victim is intentionally selected because of his or
her race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin
or ancestry. By not using that mechanism when it is applicable, the alleged
criminal is not being prosecuted to the full extent of the law, asserts HRC.
Aside from the District Attorney, HRC has sent letters to the mayor and
county executive, urging them to fully investigate the case and to prosecute
the case under Wisconsin's hate crimes law. If applied, the case would be
the first in Milwaukee's history to apply Wisconsin's hate crimes law as it
applies to sexual orientation.
Juana Vega was a 36-year-old, Mexican-American lesbian. She was an
entrepreneur and former owner of The Biker's Express, a bike messenger
service in Milwaukee, and a self-employed painter and chef. She was also an
active member of Las Americas Without Borders, a social organization for
LGBT Latinos in Milwaukee.
While serious crime overall is down, reported hate crimes based on
sexual orientation continue to increase. According to the FBI's annual crime
report for 2000, the latest year for which hate crimes data is available,
16.3 percent of the nation's hate crimes were based on sexual orientation.
This is an increase of 0.9 percent from reported hate crimes in 1999.
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