Monday, January 17, 2005 

 Is death convict a 
victim of mistrial?


     While they are facing an uphill legal battle, the lawyers of Francisco "Paco" Larraņaga, namely former ambassador Sedfrey Ordoņez, Felicitas Aquino Arroyo and Sandra Olazo Coronel, insist that their client is a victim of mistrial.

     Last Feb. 3, the Supreme Court raised to death penalty by lethal injection the earlier sentence of two life terms imposed on Paco and six others by Judge Martin Ocampo  (deceased) of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court, for the kidnapping and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu on July 16, 1997.  

     Larraņaga has appealed the ruling, and a High Court ruling on the appeal may come out anytime soon. 

     In a statement, Larraņagas lawyers said 35 witnesses have testified that the convict was in R & R Restaurant in Quezon City at the time the crime occurred, and it was impossible for him to have taken part in it.  

     In finding the convict and six others guilty, Ocampo gave more weight to the testimony of state witness Davidson Rusia, who admitted raping Jacqueline. Rusia said he was with Larraņaga on July 16, 1997. 

     Larraņaga's lawyers  noted that according to the security guard's log book in Paco's Quezon City condominium, the later went out with a lady friend Lourdes Montalban late on July 16, 1997 and returned at 2:45 a.m. the following day. 

     Larraņaga's lawyers also cited flight manifests provided by airline and airport personnel showing the convict's name did appear in the list of preflight and post flight manifests from July 15, 1997 to about noontime of July 17, 1997.  

     But the High Court noted that flight manifests did not prove the legal requirement of physical impossibility, saying Larraņaga could in fact have taken the flight from Manila to Cebu prior to those mmm

dates, for example, on July 14, 1997.     

     Noting the current mode and speed of transportation, the court said it was "within the realm of possibility for Larraņaga to be in Cebu City prior to or exactly on July 16, 1997."

     The court likewise noted that four witnesses for the prosecution have identified Larraņaga as one of two men talking to Marijoy and Jacqueline on July 16, 1997. 

      Larraņaga's case received attention and support from international organizations, including those from Madrid and Barcelona, who supported his appeal for a fair trial.

     But the Department of Justice, which transmitted to the Supreme Court the petition of these international organizations to take part in the case as amicus curiae, said the court has rejected the requests.

     Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said his office has nothing more to do with the case.

     "It has been appealed before us and decided against the accused. As far as we are concerned, this case is over. It is entirely in the hands of the Supreme Court," Gonzales said.

     The Free Legal Assistance Group has consistently opposed the implementation of the death penalty law, arguing that it did not deter the commission of heinous crimes and there was no way to correct it if it was wrongly imposed and carried out.

     FLAG lawyer Theodore Te has noted that the court has upheld the death sentence of a man convicted of raping his daughter despite conclusive DNA tests proving he was not the father of her daughter's child, who got pregnant because of the supposed rape.

     Having lost all available legal options to spare the convict's life, Te has asked President Arroyo to grant him pardon, instead of according such clemency to the convicted child rapist,  former Zamboanga del Norte congressman Romeo Jalosjos.

     FLAG had also defended but failed to save from lethal injection convicted rapist Leo Echegaray, the first death convict executed since the re-imposition of the death penalty. 

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