Prosecutors on Wednesday asked for life imprisonment for the eight rugby players on trial over the killing of teenager Fernando Báez Sosa outside a nightclub in Villa Gesell three years ago, a crime that shocked the nation.
The defendants, all aged between 21 and 23, have been remanded in custody since the attack. In a surprise move, on Thursday they apologised to the family for the teenager’s death.
Prosecutors, however, are seeking a strong sentence.
"I ask that they be sentenced to life in prison as co-authors of doubly aggravated homicide" as it was not committed in self-defence and was "premeditated," prosecutor Juan Manuel Davila said in court in Dolores, Buenos Aires Province.
Following an argument between two groups of people inside a nightclub in the popular seaside resort of Villa Gesell on January 18, 2020, the eight defendants allegedly attacked Báez Sosa, an 18-year-old law student, after they had been ejected by door staff.
The players from a small provincial club in Zárate, north of Buenos Aires, allegedly attacked Báez from behind and then beat him to death on the ground.
Images of the attack were caught on surveillance cameras, and by the telephone of one of the defendants.
"They formed a circle around [Báez Sosa]. They all struck him and when they didn't, they stopped anyone coming to help him," said Davila.
The prosecutor added that witnesses had heard the players shout racist insults at the victim as they beat him.
Báez Sosa died of head trauma caused by the blows he received while lying on the pavement.
The accused – Máximo Thomsen (age 23), Enzo Comelli (22), Matias Benicelli (23), Blas Cinalli (21), Ayrton Viollaz (23), brothers Luciano (21) and Ciro (22) Pertossi, and their cousin Lucas (23) – were arrested the same day of the crime.
The eight – dubbed 'los rugbiers' by the press – are being held in custody in a prison on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires while the trial, which began on January 2, continues.
More than 150 people have testified before the court during the trial.
Defence attorney Hugo Tomei on Thursday asked the court for the "acquittal" of the eight defendants.
Tomei insisted that the prosecution, which has requested life imprisonment for the defendants, had not "proven the plan to kill" and said the victim Fernando Baez was not defenceless during the assault.
"This hurts me a lot. We never intended for something like this. I want to apologise," said Máximo Thomsen, identified by prosecutors as one of the ring-leaders, as he broke down in tears.
Other defendants said "I apologise," "I'm sorry," "there was no intention to kill," and "there was no plan" to murder Báez Sosa.
"I'm not moved by their crying because they killed my son," Graciela Sosa, the slain teen’s mother, told the court.
Lawyer Fernando Burlando, representing the family, agreed with the prosecution's request, saying it was "enough to sentence the defendants to life" behind bars.
The assailants preyed on the teenager's "defencelessness, with no risk to the pack," according to the prosecution.
"They killed for killing's sake, it is truly inexplicable. They didn't care who," Burlando said. "Their plan was to take [Báez Sosa] as a trophy. The synchronisation of actions allowed them to build an impenetrable wall" around their victim.
The attack struck a chord in Argentina. It sparked protests in several cities, and prompted the country's rugby authorities to institute behavioural courses for almost 4,000 players of the game.
In a nation marked by wide social inequality, rugby is traditionally played and watched by the wealthy. Báez Sosa was the son of a bricklayer and a caregiver, both Paraguayan immigrants.
After more than 10 hours of hearings, the slain teenager's parents spoke to the press outside their court. They called for "the maximum sentence" for the accused.
"Today it was confirmed that my son was murdered in the worst way and I want them to pay because they are murderers and they had no mercy," said Graciela Sosa.
In their sentencing requests, lawyers claimed that each of the accused played an important role in Fernando's attack and crime, hence the request for all to serve life terms.
"We have always asked for an exemplary sentence for all of them and I am satisfied with what the prosecution and the plaintiffs have asked for. We have full confidence that justice will be served," said the victim's parents.
Tomei argued Thursday that “could be framed as assault in a fight" which carries a sentence of between two and six years, or "simple homicide" which is punishable by eight to 25 years in prison. Argentina's Criminal Code sets life imprisonment for aggravated homicide.
He said it would "never be possible to know who killed" Báez Sosa.
A verdict is expected on February 6, court officials said on Thursday.