Five of the eight young rugby-players accused of killing 18-year-old Fernando Báez Sosa outside a Villa Gesell nightclub three years ago have been convicted of double aggravated homicide and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Three others were found guilty of playing a secondary role in the brutal homicide, in which Báez Sosa was attacked from behind before being kicked and beaten to death.
Judges Claudia Castro, Christian Rabaina and Emiliano Lazzari, leading Oral Criminal Court N°1 of Dolores, ruled that the eight young men, all aged between 21 and 23, were all responsible for Báez Sosa’s death. The magistrates unanimously rejected the motion for annulment made by the defendants' lawyer, Hugo Tomei.
Máximo Thomsen, Enzo Comelli, Matías Benicelli, Ciro Pertossi and his brother Luciano Pertossi were handed life terms as co-perpetrators of homicide doubly aggravated by premeditation and malice aforethought in real concurrence.
Convicted as “secondary participants” in the attack, Ayrton Viollaz, Blas Cinalli and Lucas Pertossi (the cousin of Ciro and Luciano Pertossi) were given 15 years for their crime.
The final hearing of the trial prompted dramatic scenes in court. Defence lawyer Hugo Tomei requested that the defendants hear the verdict while standing but as the reading continued, Thomsen fainted. After a brief suspension, during which the defendant received medical treatment and relatives and members of the press were removed from the court, proceedings continued.
The verdict had been eagerly anticipated. The crime shocked the nation and turned the spotlight on issues of race, class and machismo in Argentina, with protest marches demanding justice for the slain teenager.
The accused – all young men, teammates at the small, provincial Náutico Arsenal de Zárate rugby club – were accused of pummelling law student Báez Sosa to death outside the Le Brique nightclub in the popular seaside resort of Villa Gesell on January 18, 2020.
After a fight broke out in a nightclub, those involved were evicted but their quarrel continued in the street. Báez Sosa became isolated from his friends and was surrounded by eight assailants who beat him so severely that he died of his injuries.
According to witnesses, his attackers called Báez Sosa – whose parents, a bricklayer and a caregiver, are Paraguayan immigrants – a "shitty black" ("¡Negro de mierda, mátenlo!").
In a country where the majority of the population is descended from white Europeans, mostly from Spain, Italy or Germany, the term "black" is used by some to describe Indigenous people or migrants from neighbouring countries widely viewed as inferior.
"We are strong," said Báez Sosa's mother Graciela Sosa as she arrived at court with her husband Silvino Báez. "Justice means life."
Images of the attack were caught on surveillance cameras, and by the telephone of one of the defendants.
Struck a chord
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. Law student Báez Sosa was the son of a bricklayer and a caregiver, both Paraguayan immigrants. He died of head trauma caused by the blows he received while lying on the pavement.
The trial of the eight accused opened in Dolores, 220 kilometres (136 miles) south of the capital in Buenos Aires Province, last month for aggravated, premeditated murder. Prosecutors asked for the maximum penalty possible: life imprisonment.
Defence lawyers argue that premeditation has not been proved and asked the court to impose a lighter sentence for a lesser crime.
The attack was recorded on video via multiple sources, including from a mobile phone belonging to the aggressors, and corroborated in WhatsApp chat messages. There is also a wealth of DNA and blood evidence.
The defendants, who have been remanded in custody since 2020, eventually expressed remorse during the hearings and insisted they had no intention of killing Báez Sosa.
Some defendants, however, even denied hitting Báez Sosa. The matter of who, or what, exactly was responsible for the 18-year-old's death has inflamed social media debates.
Báez Sosa family lawyer Fernando Burlando said they would appeal the 15-year sentences and seek life imprisonment for all those involved.
"The most important thing is that the facts have been proven," said Burlando.
Prosecutors and plaintiffs had requested life imprisonment for all eight defendants, as "co-authors of the crime of doubly aggravated homicide."
In preparation for the verdict, officials from the National Security Ministry ordered a major police operation to prevent “any incidents.”
Although at first there were doubts that the accused would be present at the final hearing, Hugo Tomei, a lawyer for six of those in the dock, told press on Monday morning that the young men would be present.
Lawyers in court asked for the accused to stand as the verdict was read. As the reading continued, at least one of the eight accused fainted and was removed from the court to receive medical attention.
Among those in court were Fernando’s parents, Graciela Sosa and Silvino Báez, and a number of the parents of the accused.