A court in Santa Rosa, La Pampa Province, will on Thursday hand down a verdict in the trial into the horrific 2021 killing of five-year-old Lucio Dupuy.
In the dock are the late child’s mother, Magdalena Espósito Valenti, and her partner, Abigail Páez. They stand accused of beating Lucio to death on the night of November 26, 2021.
The duo, who directly cared for the child, face charges of aggravated homicide and sexual abuse of the young boy. They face life imprisonment if convicted.
According to the allegations made against them in court, Espósito Valenti, Lucio's mother, and Páez, her girlfriend, killed Lucio at some point between 5.30pm and 7.40pm. It was the culmination of months of abuse, according to prosecutors.
The two women initially claimed that Luico had suffered an accidental fall during an attempted robbery of their home but both were arrested soon after the boy’s death as medical tests revealed previous horrors.
Defence lawyers for the pair say that neither of the accused intended to kill the young child. Páez's lawyer has also noted that her client attempted to resuscitate Lucio before his life expired.
Judges Alejandra Ongaro, Daniel Sáez Zamora and Andrés Olié are due to hand down their verdict on Thursday. The sentence will follow within 15 days, though only life imprisonment is being considered, according to local court reporting.
The late child's father, Christian Dupuy, has called a "march for justice" outside the court on Thursday.
"When I am in that courtroom waiting for the verdict from the judges, I want the call for justice to be heard loud and clear outside,” he said.
Over 18 hearings, a team from Argentina’s Public Prosecutor’s Office have laid out their case in court, with gruesome details aired in almost every session.
Prosecutor Verónica Ferrero, quoting an autopsy carried out on the dead child’s body, spoke of continuous physical abuse, alluding to long-standing injuries. She considered that Lucio was a repeated victim of mistreatment and physical and sexual abuse in the 18 months before his death.
More than 100 witnesses have testified in the trial, with neighbours and relatives offering accounts of incidents that served as warnings of wrongdoing. Lucio’s drawings have even been offered up as proof of the chronic abuse he suffered.
As well as the homicide charge, Esposito Valenti and Páez have been charged with grossly outrageous aggravated sexual abuse due to the extreme circumstances of the crime (“anal carnal access with an object"). The charges are aggravated due to the victim's age, the fact that he was in their care and because of "cruelty and malice aforethought."
A lawyer representing Lucio’s father has also asked that the aggravating factor of "gender hatred" be included, alleging that the accused have "a clear aversion to the whole male stereotype." Public prosecutors do not support this last allegation.
Chat messages shown in court indicate that the abuse of Lucio was historical, chronic and ongoing. They provide evidence of ongoing physical and psychological abuse and show that the accused adopted and agreed on strategies to cover up signs of mistreatment, in case friends, family or teachers at the small boy’s school asked questions.
“There was serious child abuse over a prolonged period of time. It was not only physical, but also psychological and sexual,” La Pampa Prosecutor Walter Martos, one of three on the case, told the elDiarioAR website in an interview earlier this month.
Prosecutors say the evidence shows that the abuse had been ongoing for at least a year and a half, ever since Lucio had gone to live with his mother after she won custody in the courts.
‘Never seen anything like this’
Lucio Dupuy’s death in 2021 shocked Argentina, with the case prompting reams of newsprint and hours of television coverage.
Juan Carlos Toulouse, the forensic expert in charge of the boy's autopsy, said in its aftermath that he "had never seen anything like this" in his entire professional career.
Upon examination, the small boy’s body was bruised, burned, beaten and bitten. The specialist said he could not understand such anger against a child of five.
Neighbours say that they had alerted both police and court authorities to potential abuse on multiple occasions, but that nothing had been done.
The boy’s father Cristian Dupuy, who lived more than 140 kilometres away, says he made similar allegations, though he admits he did not know the full horrors of his son’s life.
“They [the courts] said he was better off with his mother and now we are paying the consequences,” he told a local media outlet, shortly after his son’s death.
Esposito Valenti has been critical of Lucio’s father in court, accusing prosecutors of failing to investigate or consider his responsibility.
"I am criticised, but not the father," she told the court. "At times he ignored the child."
Addressing the judges during the trial, Páez said that she was traumatised and couldn’t remember much of what had happened.
"I know that Lucio forgave me. I hope I can forgive myself," she told the court. "I don't really know what happened, I have a lot of gaps in my head, and if I didn't tell you the details, it's because I'm very traumatised.”
She continued: “Everything they can say about me is horrible, so I apologise to the people who have been touched by the subject and by this whole situation, and who mourn him and miss him as I and his mother do. And I also want to apologise to my family and my mother because I failed her, because she didn't teach me these things.”