April 26, 2012
Legal experts question murder trial in Ecuador in Brockton double homicide
By: Maria Papadopoulos
Tim Cruz doesn’t know how accused Brockton murderer Luis Guaman can stand trial – in his native Ecuador – with no evidence or witnesses to the crime.
“I don’t know how (Ecuadorian officials) are going to try the case down in Ecuador,” the Plymouth County district attorney said Wednesday. “All the evidence is here. All the witnesses are here.”
The trial for Guaman – an Ecuadorian native accused of murdering a mother and her toddler son in Brockton last year – started on Wednesday in Ecuador, a continent away.
Guaman, 41, fled there under a false passport shortly before the bludgeoned bodies of Maria Avelina Palaguachi-Cela, 25, and her son, Brian Palaguachi, 2, were found in a trash bin outside their apartment building.
Cruz has been pushing for Ecuador to extradite Guaman to Brockton and said he is still working with the State Department to press that request.
Ecuador has so far refused to extradite, despite an arrest warrant from Interpol and a Plymouth County grand jury.
The recently amended Ecuadorian constitution prohibits the extradition of a citizen; however the country has never withdrawn from a pre-existing extradition treaty with the United States that dates back to the 19th century.
Some experts believe global politics may undermine the Brockton murder probe.
Diplomatic relations have grown so poor between the United States and Ecuador that they’ve even expelled each other’s ambassadors – and that could adversely affect the judicial process for Guaman, some believe.
“Any outstanding arrest warrant that cannot be executed due to political interference is a miscarriage of justice,” said Juliet Sorensen, clinical assistant professor of law at Northwestern Law School in Chicago.
Questions arise around how the Ecuadorian court system can deal with the absence of evidence and first-hand witnesses “who have first-hand knowledge of the events around the murders,” Sorensen said.
“What could possibly be in Ecuador that is connected to these murders?” said Sorensen, who teaches international criminal law.
Rocio Polo, prosecutor in the city of Cuenca where Guaman is being held, told The Boston Globe that Ecuador has shown good faith by swiftly arresting Guaman after he fled the United States for his homeland, holding him for prosecution, and even conducting their own autopsies after the bodies were sent for burial last year.
Italo Palacios, Guaman’s defense lawyer, said Guaman has steadfastly insisted he had nothing to do with the deaths, according to the Boston Globe.
Cruz told The Enterprise on Wednesday his office has had little contact with judicial officials in Ecuador. The only paperwork Ecuador has from Cruz’s office includes the extradition request, Guaman’s original arrest warrant, the Interpol warrant for his arrest, and “any other extrapolations from police reports and affidavits that were filed from court,” Cruz said.
And sending evidence to Ecuador is not an option, Cruz has said.
“I don’t think we could send anything down there even if we wanted to,” Cruz said. “The government of Ecuador has thrown out our ambassador because she has made statements about the corrupt judicial process down there, so why we would send evidence and people down there to take part in their corrupt judicial system makes no sense.”
Cruz said the maximum sentence for murder in Ecuador is only 16 years, and that if he sent his evidence over, there’d be no guarantee he would get it back, untainted, to use against Guaman should he ever get caught in the United States.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., publicly called for the United States to withhold U.S. aid to Ecuador if that country does not extradite Guaman back to Brockton.
“To bring Luis Guaman to justice, he must be returned to Massachusetts and face the charges for the murder of Maria and Brian,” Brown said in a statement on Wednesday. “The victims, their family, and the people of Brockton deserve far better than Ecuador’s weak penalty for murder.”