A suspect was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the slaying of 19-year-old gay man Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Mercado's body was found decapitated, dismembered, and partially burned on November 13. Juan Martinez Matos, 26, was arrested Monday in connection with murder. His other four charges include weapons violations and a count of hiding evidence, prosecutor Yaritza Carrasquillo told CNN.
Matos may also be charged with federal hate-crime penalties, as Mercado may have been killed because he was gay. According to reports, Matos picked Mercado up off the street, believing he was a woman. When he realized Mercado was male, an altercation began, and Mercado was found dead on the side of a road. The U.S. Attorney's Office would determine whether to bring a federal hate-crime charge against Martinez Matos.
"It's at a very preliminary stage," said Lymarie Llovet, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in San Juan. "There's the potential for a federal investigation."
In 2002, Puerto Rico added sexual orientation to its hate crime law protections.
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese issued a bilingual statement Thursday morning following the news, in support of filing hate-crime charges: "HRC stands in solidarity with Jorge Lopez's family and friends, our sister advocacy organizations, and the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and throughout America in calling for a full and thorough investigation of his murder as a hate crime under appropriate Commonwealth and Federal hate crimes laws."