Man charged with murder of gay Puerto Rico teen

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A man has been charged with the first degree murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.

Lopez Mercado, 19, was found dead by the side of a road on Saturday in the city of Cayey. His body had been burnt and dismembered.

The fashion student was said to be well-known among the island’s gay community and was known to have taken part in charity work.

Juan A Martinez Matos was arrested on Monday evening. He has also been charged with three counts of weapons violations and one count of hiding evidence.

According to Associated Press, Matos is thought to have confessed to the murder.

Authorities are still deciding whether he will also be charged with a hate crime. Puerto Rico has had laws against homophobic hate crime since 2002 but these have never been used before.

Prosecutor Jose Bermudez Santos said that Matos and Lopez Mercado had met on Thursday night while Lopez was dress in women’s clothes.

Matos allegedly killed him after discovering he was a man.

Local gay activist Pedro Julio Serrano said: “All the information we have is very clear that this is indeed a hate crime.”

Matos could be one of the first to be tried under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which offers federal protection against hate crimes motivated by homophobia and transphobia.

The law was signed by President Barack Obama last month.