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Puerto Rican pleads guilty in killing of gay teen

Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A man accused of decapitating a gay teenager and burning his body pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Wednesday and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

The case had gained national attention because activists demanded that U.S. authorities prosecute it as a hate crime, with supporters holding vigils in a dozen cities including New York and Los Angeles.

Police said Juan Martinez Matos, 26, told them he hated homosexuals but that he had offered the victim cocaine in exchange for sex.

The body of 19-year-old college student Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was found in November along a rural road in the southeastern mountain town of Cayey. Lopez was well known as a volunteer for organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights.

"Nothing is going to bring Jorge Steven back, but today, a bit of justice was done," said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Martinez's attorney, Celimar Gracia, told Primera Hora newspaper that prosecutors dropped several weapon-violation charges in exchange for the plea.

"He felt this was the best way to end this case," Gracia was quoted as saying.

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