The Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation has removed the Bahía Blanca judge overseeing the probe into the disappearance and death of Facundo Astudillo Castro from the investigation, upholding a complaint by the victim’s family regarding the magistrate’s conduct.
Judges Daniel Petrone, Diego Barroetaveña and Ana María Figueroa of the Federal Criminal Cassation Court, the country's highest criminal court, ruled on Tuesday that the late youngster’s family’s "fear of alleged bias" and mistrust of the magistrate "is reasonable."
"The decisions adopted by Judge Marrón, as well as her lack of timely response to certain requests from the Public Prosecutor's Office, allow us to suspect that she had assumed a hypothesis of the occurrence of the facts, although this is a matter that will be decided at a later date," the judges wrote.
According to Tuesday’s 45-page ruling, Marrón opted to adopt a hypothesis of accidental death, ruling out initial lines of investigation that could have produced evidence of a forced disappearance.
The resolution highlighted that "the accusers consider it pertinent to go deeper" into this line of investigation, which the judge has so far refused to endorse.
"Given the particular circumstances of the present case, the appeal for cassation lodged by the representatives of the Public Prosecutor's Office, which was also supported by the plaintiffs in the case, should be upheld and Judge María Gabriela Marrón should be removed from these proceedings," said the court.
Facundo Castro went missing on April 30, 2020, in the Villarino partido of Buenos Aires Province, after being stopped by police for breaking the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He had departed from his home in Pedro Luro and was reportedly on his way to Bahía Blanca to see his former partner, though he never arrived at his destination.
Partial remains of the late 22-year-old’s corpse were eventually found, more than 100 days after it went missing, in Villarino Viejo, just five kilometres away from where he was last seen.
An autopsy carried out in October 2020 confirmed that Casto had died of “asphyxia by submersion (drowning)," though experts said it was not possible to determine if the young man's death was a homicide.
The findings emerged from tests carried out by the world-renowned Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), which joined the investigation a month previous. The experts found that there was no defining evidence that a third party had been involved in the death, nor did it find elements to suggest the body had been moved before its discovery.
What injuries were on the body – such as the loss of some teeth – could have happened after Castro’s death, possibly from exposure to the environment and predatory animals, it said.
Nevertheless, the missing man’s family and their lawyers have repeatedly alleged that provincial police officers were involved in his disappearance. Many relatives seem convinced that foul play was involved.