Buenos Aires provincial policeman Luis Oscar Chocobar was sentenced Friday to a suspended prison sentence of two years for gunning down 18-year-old thief Juan Pablo Kukoc, just before Christmas 2017.
A City court on Friday defined that act as “homicide aggravated by the use of a firearm, committed in excess of the line of duty.” Chocobar was further barred from police work for the next five years.
The sentence was mildly inferior to the request of prosecutor Susana Pernas for a suspended sentence of three years and a six-year separation from the force, while the plaintiff’s lawyer Pablo Rovatti had demanded life imprisonment for what he considered an “extra-judicial execution.”
“The sentence is too light for the enormous gravity of his conduct as proven at the trial. We will be appealing to the Cassation Court for the punishment which corresponds to this case,” said Rovatti, who represented Kukoc’s mother as plaintiff.
“They condemned him,” complained Chocobar’s defence lawyer Fernando Soto when he heard the verdict.
Patricia Bullrich (Security minister at the time of the controversial slaying and now chairing the PRO centre-right party) also deplored an unfair sentence, showing up at the courthouse to express her sympathy with the convicted policeman and offer him an embrace.
"They’re not recognising police work, it was not trigger-happy," said Bullrich, expressing indignation over any sentence. “The court should understand that he was facing a man with a knife and they convict him for that when he could have looked the other way. This will paralyse the police who are going to think three times before defending a citizen.”
Kukoc was not simply a robber. He had stabbed the United States tourist Frank Wolek, 57, almost fatally nine times while mugging him in the Boca neighbourhood.
“It’s very unfair. I’m calm because the people love me and support me and know who I am,” said Chocobar, who closed his defence by telling the judges: "I was just doing my duty," insisting that he was acting in legitimate defence of society against an aggressive criminal. Together with his lawyer Soto, who had requested an acquittal, he anticipated an appeal of the sentence.
PRO deputy Waldo Wolff also showed up at the courthouse and said he would respect the verdict (which was “solomonic,” according to Bullrich), but that "it should have been acquittal."
From the United States Wolek also urged acquittal, but the prosecution argued that Kukoc was shot from behind, indicating that he was running away and that hence neither Chocobar nor anybody else was in immediate danger. The number of spent bullets found at the scene of the crime was also used against the policeman.
In the aftermath of the killing, the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition threw their full support behind Chocobar. Alongside Bullrich, then-president Mauricio Macri even hosted the police officer at the Casa Rosada.
The support for policing was welcomed by many citizens who are weary of crime, but human rights groups argued hosting Chocobar at Government House sent out the wrong message in a country where thousands were killed and forcibly disappeared at the hands of police and security officers during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Macri responded to Friday’s ruling by describing it as a “dark day for Argentina’s justice system.”