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Mario amado1

Mario Amado

Real Name: Mario Vicente Amado
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico
Date: June 6, 1992


Details: For thousands of American tourists, the breathtaking sunsets of Mexico have always been an invitation for romance, fantasy, and adventure. In June 1992, forty-nine-year-old Joe Amado and his twenty-nine-year-old brother Mario, a welder, left Los Angeles with their girlfriends. They were headed to Rosarito Beach, Mexico, a popular seaside resort thirty-five miles south of San Diego. But their weekend in the sun would soon disintegrate into a nightmare. The next day, Mario was arrested after a fight with his girlfriend. Ninety minutes later, he was found dead in a jail cell. The local authorities claim that he had committed suicide. Joe, however, is convinced that he was murdered. He is determined to figure out what really happened to him.
Mario is not the first American tourist to die in a foreign jail. And his family is not the first to be haunted by the vague details of an official investigation. In such cases, facts are few and clues are hard to come by. However, Joe is determined to learn exactly what happened to him during his brief captivity. As a result of his efforts, this potentially explosive case has sparked the interest of high-level government officials, including an American congressman and the president of Mexico.
The Amado brothers arrived in Rosarito Beach just after 1am on June 6, 1992. They were staying at a condo owned by a relative of Mario’s girlfriend, “Paula”. Joe and his girlfriend, Deborah “Debbie” Larson, eagerly accepted an invitation to come along. The two couples immediately broke out the tequila and started partying. At around 4am, Joe was feeling tired, so he and Debbie decided to go to bed. At about 7am, they woke up to the sound of Mario and Paula bickering.
Mario told Joe and Debbie that he wanted to leave because Paula was driving him crazy. However, Joe told him to go to sleep. Debbie was concerned because she knew that Mario really liked Paula; she figured that he would not want to leave unless something serious was going on. By late the next morning, he and Paula had apparently patched up their differences. According to Joe, he seemed happy, and nothing appeared to be wrong. He said that he was going to go to the bar. That was the last time Joe saw him.
That afternoon, Joe and Debbie took a romantic drive along the coast of Baja California. They assumed that Mario and Paula were getting along fine. However, at one point, the two got into another argument and she kicked him out. A few minutes later, shortly before 4:30pm, police officers arrived at the condo after receiving reports that he had struck her. She declined to file assault charges but signed a complaint against him for being drunk and disorderly. He was then arrested for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct and taken to the police station. He was placed in a holding cell, but never formally charged with a crime. According to the police, they wanted to hold him until he could sober up and pay a fine.
At around 6:30pm, Joe and Debbie returned to the condo. They were surprised to find it vacant and the key under the mat missing. A maid from the condominium complex explained that there had been problems there a few hours earlier and that the police came. Debbie crawled through a window to get them inside. As they looked around, they noticed broken glass in the kitchen. Almost immediately afterward, four police officers showed up, asking for Paula by name. They wanted to know where she was; Joe and Debbie suggested to check the bar next door. Suspicious, Debbie followed them to the bar. They were apparently frantically looking for Paula there.
A short time later, Paula came back to the condo, acting as if nothing was wrong. Joe and Debbie asked her where Mario was. She said she did not know. Two hours after she returned, a group of detectives arrived. Joe still had no idea that Mario had been arrested. The detectives informed him that Mario was dead and asked him to come to the police station to identify the body. At first, he thought they had made a mistake. He could not believe what was happening. To him, it felt like a nightmare.
Joe went with the detectives to the police station. He identified Mario after being shown pictures of him lying on the concrete floor of the jail cell. His eyes were closed, and he was only wearing pants. Joe asked what happened and why he was not wearing his sweater. The detective said that sometime after 5pm, Mario killed himself by tying one end of his sweater around his neck and tying the other end on a crossbar on the cell door. He said the bar was three feet off of the ground. Joe could not understand how he could have hung himself from that height. The detective said he was “very drunk and very heavy.”
Joe asked if there was anyone in the jail to stop Mario from hanging himself. The detective said that everyone was asleep at the time. Joe could not understand why four men were asleep at 5:30 in the afternoon. He did not believe that and believed that something was wrong with the whole scenario.
Mario died three months short of his thirtieth birthday. Joe was forced to return to the United States without him. The Mexican authorities refused to release the body until after they had completed their autopsy, and they would not tell Joe when that would happen. Within a week, the Mexican autopsy was completed. It listed the cause of death as a loss of oxygen to the brain, the result of Mario hanging himself. Joe believed that was preposterous. He recalled that one of the Mexican doctors who examined Mario's body told him that Mario had internal injuries. The doctor believed that he had been in a fight.
Joe organized demonstrations at the Mexican border, holding signs and wearing t-shirts with Mario's picture. He also contacted his congressman, Howard Berman. Congressman Berman noted that the Mexican autopsy confirmed the report of the jailers in Tijuana, that Mario had hung himself with his own sweater. He stated that when there is a report from a local foreign authority stating that a prisoner killed himself, it always makes sense to view that kind of report with some suspicion. He said that suicide by hanging is the “oldest excuse” for a jail murder that has ever been given.
As soon as Mario’s body was returned to the United States, Joe hired an independent pathologist to conduct a second autopsy. The autopsy concluded that internal injuries to Mario’s liver were strong evidence that he had been punched in the upper abdomen. The report stated that in light of such injuries, “the victim would not likely have been able to hang himself.” The pathologist believed that Mario most likely passed out or went into shock due to internal bleeding from his injuries. Congressman Berman believes that Mario was beaten and then hung or choked with an unknown instrument (not his sweater) to make it look like a suicide.
Ultimately, in October 1992, the Los Angeles County coroner reviewed both the American and Mexican autopsy reports. He determined that Mario had probably been murdered. After reviewing autopsy photogarphs, he noticed an abrasion or welt on Mario's neck that was inconsistent with being hung by a sweater. He believed that it was caused by a thin cord or rope. He also noticed shoulder and back abrasions, as well as a scalp hemorrhage that seemed inconsistent with suicide. Joe believes that the injuries indicate that Mario was dragged into the cell before he was hung.
There is one other disturbing element in this case: the fact that Mexican authorities violated international agreements by not contacting the U.S. consulate as quickly as possible following his death. Congressman Berman believes that a cover-up took place. The people involved in his death did not want authorities coming quickly to the scene of the crime, and they wanted a period of time to elapse. They hoped that Joe would forget about it, go back to the United States, and drop the whole issue.
Juan Ponce, Consul for Mexican Legal Affairs, claims that when a foreign person dies and there are no relatives or friends, Mexican authorities will quickly contact the U.S. consulate about it. However, if family and friends are there when the person dies, they will contact the U.S. consulate by letter days later.
Eventually, Congressman Berman contacted the then-president of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Gortari promised to reopen the investigation. In January 1993, Mario’s body was exhumed for yet another autopsy. Ponce believes that the truth will come out of the full investigation that they are making with the U.S. government. He said the cooperation is necessary because there are witnesses and evidence in the United States.
Joe would like to see the people that killed Mario to suffer for it, because he and the rest of Mario’s loved ones are suffering. He said that Mario’s death will not just “go away”. He wants their lives to be ruined, just like how his and his family’s lives have been ruined.
In the near future, the results of the new autopsy will be released to Mario’s family. At this time, the Mexican government plans to bring criminal charges if their investigators can prove he was indeed murdered.
Suspects: Mario's family suspected that the police officers who arrested him assaulted him, and when he died, they tried to stage it as a suicide. They also believe that others in law enforcement helped cover it up. Evidence found in independent autopsies indicated that his death was murder, not suicide. There is speculation that his girlfriend, Paula, might somehow be involved in it.
Four men were in the cell with Mario at the time. They allegedly were asleep at the time of his death and did not witness it. Joe does not believe that and suspects that they may have seen the killing take place.
Mario's family admits that he had been despondent in the past about his chronic alcoholism. He once said to Joe, "I don't care if I live." However, Joe does not believe that he committed suicide.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the March 17, 1993 episode.
  • Mario's girlfriend's real name was not used; she was named "Paula" in the broadcast.
  • Joe helped get attention to several other cases of Americans who were being treated poorly or died in Mexican jails.
  • Some sources state that Mario was hung from the crossbar of the cell window.
  • Interestingly, Berman has a connection to another case featured on the show: one of his interns, Joyce Chiang, died suspiciously in 1999.

Results: Unresolved. As a result of the third autopsy which was completed in March 1993, enough evidence was found to prove that Mario was murdered. Fibers found embedded in his neck were determined by the FBI to have come from a rope, not a sweater. It was also noted that the trauma to his neck was too narrow to have been caused by a sleeve or any part of a sweater; it was more consistent with a rope. It is now believed that he was severely beaten in his jail cell and strangled with a rope, prior to having his death scene staged to look like a suicide.
On May 8, 1993, thirty-five-year-old Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores was arrested and charged with Mario's murder. He was a Rosarito municipal police officer assigned to the jail. One witness, a robbery suspect being held in an adjoining cell, claimed that Mario argued with and insulted Flores, who angrily entered the cell. The witness heard the sound of a blow and then heard Mario cry out in pain. A few minutes later, Mario was found dead. The witness was not interviewed during the initial police investigation. A second witness gave similar testimony to investigators.
Investigators believe that Flores was trying to subdue Mario in his cell but got "carried away." Flores and two other municipal officers claimed that he did not arrive at work that day until after Mario was found dead. He also claimed that the witnesses framed him because he "arrested them many times." Investigators, however, claimed that he was unable to provide a "convincing alibi" for that timeframe. They noted that the testimony of the other officers was inconsistent. They also speculated that the other officers may have been involved in a cover-up. In January 1996, Flores was tried and convicted of intentional homicide in Mario's death. He was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.
However, just four months later in May 1996, an appeals court overturned Flores' conviction and he was released. Under Mexican law, he cannot be tried again. The court claimed that Mario's autopsy did not rule out suicide, and that even if a murder occurred, Flores was not on duty and not on jail when it occurred. According to one report, other inmates testified that they had seen Mario being beaten by an officer in his cell. However, they said that Flores was not the attacker.
Mario's case remains unsolved. Joe believes that at least two officers were involved in the murder.
Sadly, in 1995, Mario's father passed away. Joe and Debbie later married. He is still hoping to find out who was responsible for Mario's death.