Day 1: Tuesday, April 6, 2020
Highlights of the first day of the trial against Roberto David Castillo Mejía - an employee of the DESA company - charged with the murder of Lenca leader and defender Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores on March 2, 2016.
Exp. 2-48-2020 - Hearing held before Chamber 1 of the Sentencing Court with National Territorial Jurisdiction .
Before the hearing began:
- The sentencing court had convened the oral and public trial hearing for 10am. Prior to the hearing, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the family of Berta Cáceres called a press conference outside the courthouse at 9am where they stressed, "The trial against David Castillo should only be the beginning of the process of prosecuting the people involved in the crime".
- The public nature of public and oral trials is established in article 308 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Although international and national observers were initially allowed to enter the courtroom, the Court later asked them to leave due to the restrictions related to the COVID 19 health emergency declared in the country, even though their presence was allowed in the preliminary hearings. This restriction is stated in order TS/JN-2-48-2020 in response to a petition made during for the Hearing to Propose Evidence.
- As of 12pm, the National Penitentiary Institute and the army, responsible for the transfer of David Castillo from the military battalion (in the interior of the Tamara Prison Annex, where he is being held), had not yet brought him to the court. The court notified that the hearing was suspended until 1:30pm.
- The accused was admitted to Court Room 1 minutes before 1pm, the hearing finally started at 2:30pm. Court confirms that there will be no in-person observation. Legal representatives of Laura Zúniga, daughter of Berta Cáceres, requested the Court to allow the entry of his client, who is protected in her condition of victim and part of the process. Even so, the Court denies the request of the private prosecution led by Léster Castro and does not allow Laura Zúniga to be present at the hearing.
- The hearing is broadcast publicly via Facebook, with very poor audio and video quality. They set up a meeting room in the free application "Jitsi" where they allow victims and observers to virtually attend the hearing.
First procedural moment
During the motions stage, the Defense requests the suspension of the hearing for three reasons:
First, because three amparos, filed in the last seven months, have not been resolved by the Constitutional Chamber; second, because the Constitutional Chamber has not ruled on them:
1. A writ of amparo on the resolution denying the substitution of precautionary measures (pretrial detention) to David Castillo;
2. A writ of amparo on the denial of the first recusal filed on September 7, 2021. Exp. SO-0895-2020
3. A writ of amparo on the evidence ruled inadmissible by the Court, which the defense considers of utmost importance for David Castillo's defense.
Second, the defense argued that he hearing be suspended because there is a pending appeal at the Appeals Court related to a nullity that was denied by the Tribunal during the hearing of February 10 when the defense requested the hearing be suspended until the amparo (SO-0895-2020) be resolved.
Third, the Defense alleges that three expert opinions that were admitted as evidence have not been able to move forward for the following reasons:
i. Regarding the expert opinion in charge of Jonathan Murillo Maradiaga to extract the LG black and gray phone, they allege that they have not been given the phone, which is in the custody of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
ii. Regarding the extraction of information from the phones of Berta Cáceres, Douglas Bustillo, Sergio Rodríguez; the defense alleges that experts Shaun Vodden and Jonathan Langtong did not have access to a USB with the relevant information they needed to analyze.
iii. Regarding the expert's report by Hugo Alberto Rivas García, they argue that he is ill with COVID 19 and has not been able to perform the expert's report on criminal links and analysis of the interceptions of communications that the Public Prosecutor's Office has been carrying out. Allegedly, he has not been able to complete the report and present it to the court in due, so the defense states its intention to present it during the incidental stage of the oral and public trial.
After a long recess for deliberation, the Court concluded:
On the amparos:
1. The first two amparos have been admitted, but without suspension of the proceedings. The Constitutional Chamber has not informed the Tribunal that the processing of these cases obstructs the continuation of the trial as long as a sentence is not issued on the same, while Article 52 of the Constitutional Justice Law empowers them to continue with the trial. They emphasize that there is no law or mandate of competent authority that prescribes otherwise.
2. Regarding the amparo filed yesterday, it has not yet been admitted by the Constitutional Chamber and therefore, it cannot be foreseen how it will be resolved or what consequence it will have on the trial.
3. Regarding the appeal, they have not been notified of a resolution of the Court of Appeals that has any effect on the development of the hearing and therefore cannot suspend for this reason.
Regarding the expert opinions:
a. Expert report on the extraction of a black and gray LG telephone: that the technical defense has had enough time to coordinate the delivery of the same by means of diligences duly requested to the Court.
b. Expert analysis of electronic media information: the content the experts needs to analyze has been in the file since the pre-trial stage in the Criminal Court and that this Tribunal, which began to hear the case in September 2020, received this information and can be found in folio 4,287 of the current case file. At the same time, in the hearing held on March 10 of this year, where the content of the expert opinions proposed by the parties was reviewed, nothing was mentioned by the defense about the impediments for the development of the expert report, nor has it been specified that the analysis contained in the expert opinion will be limited to the information stored in that USB in mention but to electronic devices in its generality. It is noteworthy that the court mentions the danger of the lack of clarity in the way in which the defense issues its manifestations.
c. Expert report of Hugo Alberto Rivas: if the expert mentioned is currently ill with COVID, the infection must be recent and it is not an excuse for the delay in the elaboration of the expertise.
The court concludes with the observation that the only means of evidence that can be used in trial are those that are duly proposed and admitted, as authorized by the procedural law. In this sense, they cannot allow the development of the proceedings for the elaboration of the mentioned expert opinions simultaneously with the development of the trial.
The hearing is closed for continuation tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.
The parties in the courtroom:
Sentencing Court with National Territorial Jurisdiction, Chamber I.
- Hon. Delia Lizeth Villatoro (Presiding Judge)
- Hon. Esther Carolina Flores Martínez
- Hon. José Anaím Orellana Espinoza
- Secretary Juan Cárcamo, Assistant Secretary
Prosecutors of the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Against Life (FEDCV)
- Ingrid Barahona and Javier Eduardo Núñez
Legal representatives of the Private Prosecutors
Procedural role of victims: In civil law systems, crime victims may become private accusers. In Honduras, Article 16 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CPP) explicitly allows the victim to "become a private prosecutor or plaintiff and intervene as such throughout the proceedings". Thus, the victim who is constituted as a private accuser has the right to initiate the criminal prosecution and to be assisted by the Public Prosecutor's Office if the victim has low income (CPP art. 96). In addition, victims may participate and suggest legal actions not ordered by the Public Prosecutor's Office (CPP art. 97).
- Lestter Castro, representative of Oliva, Bertha and Laura Zúniga Cáceres and Austra Bertha Flores, the daughters and mother of Berta Cáceres Flores.
- Koritza Ortez, representative of Salvador Zúniga Cáceres, son of Berta Cáceres Flores.
Technical Defense of Roberto David Castillo Mejía
- Ritza Antúnez and Juan Carlos Cantillano.
- Roberto David Castillo Mejía
See press release from the Expert Observation Mission: https://www.observacionbertacaceres.org/post/honduras-expert-mission-to-observe-trial-for-murder-of-berta-c%C3%A1ceres
See COPINH press release: https://copinh.org/2021/04/copinh-se-pronuncia-ante-el-juicio-contra-david-castillo/
See the evidence admitted and not admitted: Trial for the murder of Berta Cáceres: Guide to understand and follow the trial of David Castillo https://www.observacionbertacaceres.org/post/juicio-por-el-asesinato-de-berta-c%C3%A1ceres-como-entender-los-procedimientos