Mexican prosecutors announced Saturday night that they were dropping the case against a woman who had been sentenced to six years in prison For killing a man when she raped and assaulted him.
In a ruling that touched off a public outcry last week, a Mexico state court said it agreed 23-year-old Roxana Ruiz was raped in 2021, finding her guilty of murder with “excessive use of legitimate defense.” It also ordered Ruiz to pay more than $16,000 in restitution to the family of his attacker.
Feminist groups, which have supported Ruiz’s defense, protested angrily, saying the ruling criminalizes survivors of sexual violence while protecting perpetrators in countries with high levels of gender-based violence and femicide. Protesters in Mexico City carry signs reading “It is not a crime to protect my life.”
Ruiz, an indigenous woman and single mother, told reporters after the court’s ruling that she had received death threats because of the case and that she was worried about her family’s safety, especially the life of her 4-year-old son.
“It’s not justice,” he said. “Remember that I was the one who was sexually assaulted by that man, and after he died because I defended myself … because I didn’t want to die at his hands.”
In response to the outrage, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during a morning press briefing that he would seek to pardon Ruiz. But his lawyers say the pardon means Ruiz committed a crime and is completely innocent.
In a press release Saturday night, the state prosecutor’s office said it had examined the case — taking into account that Ruiz is part of a vulnerable group — and found him “absolved of guilt.” It added that the prosecutor’s office believed he acted in self-defense.
The announcement was celebrated by Ruiz’s defense lawyer, Angel Carrera, although he noted that he had not been formally notified of the charges being dropped.
“It means they’re accepting his innocence,” Carrera told The Associated Press. “It’s an acknowledgment that he’s just protecting himself.”
In May 2021, Ruiz was working selling French fries in Nezahualcoatl, one of 11 municipalities in the state of Mexico, a state that borders Mexico City on three sides and continues to post warnings about femicide and enforced disappearances of women.
The defense said Ruiz had been drinking with a friend and an acquaintance in the neighborhood. The man offered to walk her home, asking her to stay the night because it was late and she was far from home. As she slept in a separate bed, the man attacked and raped her.
Ruiz fought back and he threatened to kill him, then in the struggle, Ruiz was able to kill the man in self-defense, Carrera said.
The court said the fact that the man was struck in the head and rendered unconscious was sufficient for Ruiz to plead self-defense. Carrera said the claim was “absolutely false,” saying it had not been determined that the attacker had been knocked unconscious.
Carrera said that in a panic, Ruiz put the man’s body in a bag and dragged him down the street, where he was arrested by passing police.
Despite the fact that Ruiz was a rape victim to police, a forensic examination was not conducted, an important step in prosecuting sexual assault cases, Carrera said. Instead, one officer responded that he probably wanted to have sex with the man at first and then changed his mind, the lawyer said.
Nearly half of Mexican women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, government data show.
In 2022, the Mexican government registered a total of 3,754 women – an average of 10 a day – who were killed, a significant jump from the previous year. Only a third were investigated as femicides.
Carrera said he hopes the announcement to drop the case will set a precedent for other gender-based violence cases to be more thoroughly investigated and treated with greater sensitivity.
The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Ruiz has allowed her to be identified and participated in public protests leading activists who support her.