By Gabriela Resto-Montero
MANHATTAN — A two-city delegation led by East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Speaker Christine Quinn will head to Puerto Rico Jan. 19 to meet with the family of murdered gay teen Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.
"We hope this visit shows that the Puerto Rican LGBT community is not alone," said Pedro Julio Serrano, a gay-rights activist who arranged the meeting. "To show that the family of Jorge Steven is not alone."
The partially burned, decapitated and dismembered body of Lopez Mercado was found near his home in Cayey in November.
The brutality of the crime mobilized the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and the United States to press authorities to try suspect Juan Martinez Matos under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
"The issue here is that, in Puerto Rico, there has never been a murder case categorized as a hate crime based on identity or sexual orientation," Mark-Viverito said.
The law was signed by President Barack Obama just a month before Lopez Mercado’s murder.
Martinez Matos was charged with the slaying after admitting he picked up Lopez Mercado, 19, thinking he was a woman. He later claimed he suffered a psychotic break when he realized Lopez Mercado was a man.
After a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, Martinez Matos, 26, was found fit to stand trial.
Councilmembers Rosie Mendez (D-Lower East Side), Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) will join Mark-Viverito and Quinn in meeting with the family, as will representatives from Chicago.
The Council hoped to show solidarity, but also to intensify pressure on Gov. Luis Fortuno to speak out against the crime, Mark-Viverito said.
Martinez Matos will next have a hearing of charges Feb. 2, according to Serrano. Under Puerto Rican law, hate-crime designation occurs at sentencing.
"We will remain vigilant until the very end," Serrano said.