If their sentences hold, five men convicted of trafficking and killing 11 girls and women from Ciudad Juarez will never walk the streets again.
On Monday, July 27, a panel of three women judges handed down unprecedented prison sentences of 697 years and six months each for Vital “Don Meny” Anguiano, Edgar Jesus Regalado Villa, Cesar Felix Romero Esparza, Jesus Hernandez Martinez, and Jose Contreras Terrazas. A sixth defendant, Gerardo Puentes Alba, was acquitted of crimes.
The sentencing, which was postponed from last week, concluded a criminal proceeding of 3 months and 13 days that was dubbed by local media “The Trial of the Century.” In addition to their prison sentences, the defendants were collectively ordered to pay victims’ families more than $50,000 in reparations for the loss of their daughters.
Arrested in 2013, the defendants were accused of systematically abducting and sexually exploiting young, working-class females before slaughtering them and dumping their remains in the rural Juarez Valley.
The State linked the defendants to the Aztecas, a binational gang that operates in Texas and New Mexico as well as Juarez and the state of Chihuahua
Judge Emma Teran Murrillo said the accused took advantage of the “criminal juncture” that prevailed in Ciudad Juarez after 2008 and forced victims from low-income backgrounds into captive prostitution.
Additionally, Teran and fellow judges Catalina Ruiz Pacheco and Mirna Luz Rocha Perez instructed the state prosecutor’s office to initiate investigations of unnamed police officers and jailers who were implicated in a prostitution ring mentioned during the trial.
Prior to the sentencing two non-governmental organizations that co-prosecuted the case against the six men, Justice for Our Daughters and the Ciudad Juarez Women’s Roundtable, demanded a continued investigation of other likely actors still on the loose.
Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte later praised the verdicts and sentences as a step forward for his state’s justice system.
“It seems fundamental to me that this trial, which was called ‘The Trial of the Century,’ has concluded and sentenced to almost 700 years in prison the parties who are guilty of these femicides,” Duarte said. In response to a reporter’s question about a continued investigation, Duarte pledged “whoever might be responsible will be tried.”
Because eight of the victims were under 18 years of age, the five men sentenced this week had additional time incorporated into their sentences.
The victims included: Jazmin Salazar Ponce, Lizbeth Aviles Garcia, Monica Liliana Delgado Castillo, Beatriz Alejandra Hernandez Trejo, Jessica Terrazas Ortega, Deysi Ramirez Munoz, Maria Guadalupe Perez Montes, Perla Ivonne Aguirre Gonzalez, Idaly Juache Laguna, Jesica Leticia Pena Garcia, and Andrea Guerrero Venzor.
All of the victims vanished during 2009 and 2010, mainly from downtown Juarez; their remains were recovered in the Juarez Valley in 2011 and 2012.
Present in court for the sentencing, family members of the victims reportedly cried when the lengthy prison terms were announced.
“If it wasn’t for my daughter, these (defendants) would not be here,” Dora Maria Venzor Colomo, mother of victim Andrea Guerrero Venzor, was quoted in El Diario de Juarez. The teen worked for “Don Meny,” who was fingered in court testimony as connected to the disappearance to at least two other girls dating back to 1995.
Venzor said her daughter came into this world with a “star,” since she was the first baby recorded as born in Juarez in 1995- a year when serial murders of women terrorized the Mexican border city.
Ironically, as a small child Andrea Guerrero helped her mom paint crosses for Sagrario Gonzalez, a 17-year-old maquiladora (border factory) worker who was abducted and murdered in 1998, according to Venzor.
Also on hand for the July 27 sentencing were relatives of the convicted men, some of whom stridently denounced the trial.
“They have no proof against the alleged culprits, only fabricated statements, which are contradictory, vague and without foundation,” Omar Martinez, cousin of defendant Jesus Hernandez Martinez, told El Diario.
“There are no concrete scientific proofs, no blood, fingerprints, no DNA, absolutely nothing.”
The State’s case in the Juarez Valley trial relied on eyewitness accounts and testimonies from protected witnesses, including one young man implicated in the crimes who was let off the hook in return for testifying against others.
Relatives of the defendants and their lawyers vowed to pursue different legal avenues in order to reverse the convictions and sentences. Four other people charged in the Juarez Valley femicides still await trial.
Early on the same morning the five men were sentenced in the conclusion of “The Trial of the Century,” the body of an unidentified, naked woman was discovered at the intersection of Veracruz and Miraflores streets in Juarez’s Felipe Angeles neighborhood, a low-income district straddling the Rio Grande just across from El Paso, Texas. Reportedly, the victim had been burned and covered with a substance initially thought to be lime.
Sources: El Diario de Juarez, July 28, 2015. Articles by Blanca Carmona and editorial staff. La Jornada, July 28, 2015. Article by Ruben Villalpando and Miroslava Breach. Norte, July 25 and 28, 2015. Articles by Carlos Huerta.