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Drugs and corruption have taken a violent toll across Mexico. Last year, the country recorded more than 15,000 homicides. Today, we put a face on that number.

From member station KJZZ, Peter O'Dowd takes us to the city of Agua Prieta and reports on the life and death of legal advocate Marcos Armendariz.

(Soundbite of vehicles)

PETER O'DOWD: Before he died, Marcos Armendariz lived in a small home off this busy street. On the night of October 23rd, someone armed with a gun stepped through the gate and walked 50 feet down a path that leads to his office.

PATY: (Through Translator) There were four bullets. Two entered his body.

O'DOWD: Through an interpreter, his daughter Paty says she found his body slumped over the desk. One bullet pulverized his heart. One that missed is still lodged in the wall. An investigator says there are suspects in the case, but he's tight-lipped on the details.

Colleagues and family believe that Armendariz stoked his killer's rage right here among the constant sound of line printers in Agua Prieta's civil courthouse. Armendariz never spent a day in law school, but the 56-year-old with a slight paunch and a bushy mustache built his reputation here. When his clients signed over power of attorney, Armendariz could argue their case before a judge.

Former client Alice Valenzuela is an American who now lives in the state of Sonora.

Ms. ALICE VALENZUELA: He was short, sturdy and pugnacious, and he gave no quarter.

O'DOWD: Armendariz once helped Alice keep a recycling business afloat after a local politician tried to shut down the operation. It's the type of conflict Armendariz favored. He never took a drug case. Instead, Alice says, he preferred to challenge public officials and deadbeat dads.

Ms. VALENZUELA: To me, he would've been just a minor annoyance in the big picture. But obviously, he was enough of an annoyance to make some people feel very threatened.

O'DOWD: The list of potential enemies piles up quickly. One local attorney says Armendariz was disliked throughout the community. That attorney was afraid to speak on tape or give his name because he says in this violent country, it's unwise for people to stick their necks out in a case like this.

Off tape, though, he says Armendariz was brash and he craved the adrenaline of challenging powerful people. Armendariz did joust regularly with local officials over the years. He also irked other attorneys who'd spent years in law school.

Lawyer Carlos Freydig was willing to speak publicly on that issue.

Mr. CARLOS FREYDIG (Attorney): (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: Other lawyers didn't consider him a colleague, he says. They criticized him. There was jealously and sometimes anger, because even without a degree, Armendariz was good at his job. He sometimes cherry-picked rich clients from other attorneys and collected a premium doing it.

I asked Freydig if Armendariz ever lost a case.

Mr. FREYDIG: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: Almost never, he says. Almost never.

For the most part, Armendariz did this work for free. His home is furnished with armchairs, stoves and broken trucks that his poorest clients offered as modest payment.

Client Feliciano Alvarez says his family never saw a bill after Armendariz waged a successful five-year battle on their behalf. It was against a wealthy man who had stolen the family farm.

Mr. FELICIANO ALVAREZ: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: Alvarez says the poor are in mourning and wondering if they'll ever find another advocate again.

PATY: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: The answer to that question may rest in the hands of Armendariz's daughter, Paty. In her father's office, she muscles open a filing cabinet.

There are about a hundred files here. Despite her own lack of formal training, Paty says she wants to carry on her father's dream of opening a free law clinic dedicated to the city's underserved. She knows that means the threat of danger hasn't gone away. Somewhere in this town, her father's killer is hiding.

PATY: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: I'm angry, Paty says. I'm very angry.

Still, she tries to explain in English that she understands why her father took the risks he did.

PATY: How can I say that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATY: Maybe he won't be happy or grateful for life if his life don't believe something in there.

O'DOWD: Paty pauses and speaks again in Spanish.

PATY: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: My father would have been unhappy, she says, if his walk in life had not left any footprints.

For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd.

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