March 10, 2015 / 2:38 AM / 3 years ago

Mexico court frees vigilante leader involved in fatal firefight

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A judge in the violent Mexican state of Michoacan has ordered that a jailed vigilante leader involved in a firefight late last year that killed 10 people should be freed, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary said on Monday.

Vigilante leader Luis Antonio Torres, alias "El Americano" (C), is embraced by a supporter as he and other vigilantes voluntarily surrender to state authorities to cooperate in a shootout investigation in the town of Buenavista Tomatlan, Michoacan December 30, 2014. REUTERS/Alan Ortega

Hipolito Mora and his followers clashed in mid-December with a band led by Luis Antonio Torres, alias “El Americano,” a former vigilante leader turned rural police commander.

The shootout took place in La Ruana, a town about 150 miles (240 km) from Morelia, the state capital. Both men and 35 others were arrested in January and they have been behind bars ever since. Mora’s son was among the 10 killed in the shootout.

On Monday, a Michoacan state judge ordered that Mora and his 26 followers should be released, arguing they had acted in legitimate self-defense, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said Torres and his men would also be freed soon. The judiciary spokeswoman denied that would happen on Monday.

Michoacan has long been torn by violence, prompting President Enrique Pena Nieto to send reinforcements to the state to wrest away control from a powerful drug gang, known as the Knights Templar cartel, last year. He forged an uneasy alliance with vigilante groups to restore order.

Late last month, Mexican federal troops caught Knights Templar boss Servando “La Tuta” Gomez. His arrest was a coup for Pena Nieto, whose crime-fighting credentials have been questioned by lingering anger over the abduction and presumed massacre of 43 trainee teachers last year.

Reporting by Tomas Sarmiento and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Paul Tait

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