|Family members of the victim and the accused, together: "It was a fair verdict"|
This afternoon, a unanimous "not guilty" verdict was delivered by the jury in a trial that captured the attention of all those present in the courtroom and the main national newspapers in Argentina. In fact, the mother and relatives of the murdered young man, Jonathan Guerrero, addressed the jury in open court by saying that they must acquit the defendant Juan Figueroa. They were eyewitnesses of the shooting and testified that Figueroa had been framed. He did not shoot.
There has rarely been anything like this seen in a trial. The mother of the accused and the victim's mother, together, embraced, moved and united under the same claim: "Not guilty for Figueroa and Justice for Jonathan" ".... We want the prosecution to prosecute the real killer, Mr. Romero, alias “El Wichi”. He is the one who shot Jonathan ...", those were their statements.
The prosecution’s proof regarding the identity of the defendant faded during the course of the trial and the jury clearly understood that.
It was also seen during the trial that the relatives of both the victim and the accused expressed their feelings with statements on their shirts (see the photos). The shirts of the relatives of the defendant asked the court to "Free Juan Figueroa" and the shirts of the family of the victim asked for "Justice for Jonathan Guerrero".
Far from representing a contradiction, it was a powerful statement of both families asking for the same thing in different words: "Let the jury do justice with Jonathan, and free Figueroa," a young man wrongly accused and imprisoned for two and a half years.
|The mother of the victim, sitting next to the mother of the accused, satisfied with the not guilty verdict.|
This was not an easy trial to conduct. However, the professionalism of Judge Elhart should be noted. The State attorney Noemi Carreira was in charge of the prosecution and public defender Horacio Martinez Ledesma performed in a distinguished way as the head of Figueroa’s defense.
Summary of the facts and the verdict:
A group of four young men were talking in the street when they were surprised by gunshots. Three of these youths were injured. One of them, Jonathan, received a deadly injury. It was a treacherous ambush. The other member of this group of friends, Juan Figueroa, was unharmed. As was proven during the trial, the aggressors, led by a person identified as "Wichi" Romero, wanted to kill him. Several witnesses saw the incident with their own eyes, including the victim's sister. All pointed to "Wichi" as the perpetrator of the murder from the very beginning and testified that Figueroa did not even carry a weapon.
Following the closing arguments of the both parties, Judge Elhart read the instructions to the jury on the law and provided them with a verdict form consisting of three possible options:
• Murder aggravated by the use of a firearm as charged
• Simple murder as a lesser included offense
• Not guilty
After little more than an hour of deliberation, the jury announced that they had arrived to a verdict and read it in open court:
"We, the jury, find the accused Juan Figueroa NOT GUILTY."
After the verdict of the jury, there was a touching moment. The relatives of the victim and the accused melted into a long, silent and moving embrace. They were crying and sobbing. After that, both mothers exchanged their t-shirts. Guerrero's mother left the San Martín courts with the t-shirt asking "Free Juan Figueroa". And Figueroa's mother left with the T-shirt asking for "Justice for Jonathan Guerrero."
Finally, another unforgettable moment: the relatives of the victim and the accused formed a line and greeted the jurors with an enthusiastic ovation and applause while they were leaving court. It was the postcard that faithfully portrayed what happened those days: citizens saying goodbye to their fellow citizen judges –their peers- with a hearty applause.
A famous California law professor, Dr. Sunwolf, once wrote a beautiful passage that applies perfectly to this judgment:
"A jury´s verdict may be an act of healing. The function of the jury, among the many that it has, may be to close the tragic events in a family´s life, heal victims, repair wrongdoing, and speak for the masses. Jury trials are powerful forces in the lives of so many people..."