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ARGENTINA | 27-12-2019 18:59

Supreme Court clears women of murder charges after more than decade behind bars

Cristina Vázquez and Lucía Cecilia Rojas absolved by nation's highest court of convictions for murder of a neighbour in 2001.

The Supreme Court has absolved two women of murder convictions, after the duo spent more than a decades behind bars.

The two women, Cristina Vázquez and Lucia Cecilia Rojas, were condemned to life imprisonment for the 2001 killing of an elderly woman in the northeastern city of Posadas, Misiones.

In a unanimous ruling published on its official website last week, the nation’s highest court declared that the 2010 convictions of Vázquez and Rojas, both aged 37, was based on a "partial and inconsistent analysis of the case.”

Up until the ruling, Vázquez had been held in the Misiones women’s prison and Rojas at the women's detention centre in Ezeiza. The two have spent 11 and 14 years in prison respectively. 

Both women have always denied their involvement in the murder of 79-year-old Ersenilda Lelia Dávalos, who was bludgeoned to death with a hammer on July 28,  2001, at her home in Posadas, capital of Misiones province, 1,100 kilometres from the capital.

The five Supreme Court justices agreed that the ruling is "a solution that, although late, puts an end to the injustice suffered by two people who have spent many years in prison." They added that "after more than nine years of the recursive procedure," it was necessary to dictate "a sentence that establishes once and for all" the penal situation of the two women that "puts an end to the state of suspicion." 

Both had been "deprived of their liberty," the court clarified. 

In 2010, the Supreme Court had ordered the Superior Court of Misiones Province to review the sentence, considering that the convictions and sentence were based on "assumptions concerning their lifestyle, without evaluating the evidence."

But the provincial court upheld the sentence nonetheless.

Vázquez, Rojas and Ricardo Jara, Rojas’ boyfriend at the time, had been convicted after being identified by a witness, whose testimony was not confirmed in court, and without DNA, fingerprint or other evidence linking them to the crime scene.

Lawyer Indiana Guereño, who has been working to overturn the ruling for years, told the Pagina/12, that the witness' testimony had suggested a motive, claiming that Jara would be selling stolen jewels belonging to the victim. 

The article in the local daily, by journalist Irina Hauser, said that furthermore, the woman who linked the duo to the scene never testified in the case. She neither appeared in court, nor was summoned, during the trial. The allegedly stolen jewellery never appeared either, and there was no-one to corroborate her story. 

At the time of the crime, Vázquez says she was eight kilometres from her house, with two friends Celeste García and Pedro Oyhanarte, with whom she even spent the entire next day. They declared this during the case, but the courts ignored their claims, according to Hauser.

"I was condemned for being a woman and poor, for prejudice because I smoked marijuana and had previous issues [at school]," Vázquez told journalist Mariana Carbajal for Pagina/12, back in 2017. 

The Superior Court concluded that the case will be subject to a second review as it serves "is a clear example of an improper process in which the principle of innocence was denied", as a result of "a biased and partial review of the judgment".

– TIMES/AFP/NA

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