By MARK LORENZANA
Just hours after Roberto Elías Martínez, a control judge in the northern Mexican state of Zacatecas, died of gunshot wounds he had sustained during a shooting by suspected members of a drug cartel the previous day, that state’s main penitentiary, Cieneguillas, registered a violent prisoner riot and attempted prisoner escape on Sunday, Dec. 4, followed by a series of road blockades, assumingly engineered by cartel leaders.
According to early police reports, gangs of criminals set several vehicles on fire to block the highway linking Zacatecas to Aguascalientes after authorities thwarted the prison escape.
Local residents in the area reported the blockade of the Zacatecas-Aguascalientes highway, with at least one tractor trailer on fire.
There were also blockades reported, along with tire puncturing, on other highways linking the Zacatecas capital to other cities and states, and incidences of armed individuals setting fire to a toll booth located on the Zacatecas-Fresnillo highway.
Late Sunday night, Zacatecas authorities issued a statement indicating that the situation inside the prison was “under control,” but added that several police officers had been injured in the riot.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, Judge Martínez was attacked in the municipality of Guadalupe, a component of the Zacatecas-Guadalupe metropolitan area.
According to local reports, Martínez suffered at least two gunshot wounds, one in the head, as he was shot by an armed individual while boarding his vehicle, which was parked outside his home.
The presiding magistrate of the Zacatecas Superior Court of Justice, Arturo Nahle, first reported the death of Martínez, who was 50 years old.
“The @TribunalZac is in mourning. A few minutes, ago one of its most competent judges and committed to the high value of justice died,” Nahle wrote on Twitter.
“The murder of Judge Roberto Elías Martínez outrages us and adds to the desperate demand for peace in Zacatecas. We offer his family our condolences and our warm embrace.”
In an interview with Mexican daily newspaper El Universal, Nahle revealed that there was no prior knowledge that the judge had received any threat. He said that the colleagues of Martínez in the control court, as well as his family, were consulted after the attack but no one knew of any threat to his life.
Nahle said that “in the judiciary, we are outraged” and added that when he broke the news of Martínez’s death to the more than 100 judges through a group chat, they all agreed that “an attack on one judge is an attack on the entire judiciary, and in those terms, we are all expressing our outrage and condemnation.”
Nahle likewise added that that even he, as president of the judiciary, was not notified of any threat to Martínez before the fatal shooting, and said that when judges receive a threat, they are immediately reassigned to a different court as well as provided with security, which extends to their families.
Just last Nov. 24, General José Silvestre Urzúa Padilla, coordinator of the National Guard (GN) in Zacatecas, died in a confrontation with criminal elements.
Zacatecas — which is governed by David Monreal Ávila of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) — has become one of the most violent regions in Mexico, amid turf wars between rival criminal organizations.