BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 2, 2015–A jury of six men and six women deliberated for a record 6 hours and 58 minutes in the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin before returning into the courtroom to announce their unanimous not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter verdict in the trial of Donicio Salazar, 30, accused of the murder of Rodney Richard August.
Salazar has been tried twice before for the June 28, 2004 murder of August, a 22- year-old man who was found on the bank of the Macal River in San Ignacio, Cayo District, with a large chop wound to the middle of the back. August died some nine hours later while undergoing treatment at the Western Regional Hospital, in Belmopan.
Before he died, however, August named “Life” as the man who had inflicted the massive chop wound to him.
August had told three persons that “Life” was the one who had chopped him. He told Desol Neal, a Justice of the Peace; a police corporal, Pedro Ical; and his mother Elizabeth Mejia, to whom he had mentioned that he was going to die.
On December 1, 2006, the then 21-year-old Salazar was found guilty of the murder of Rodney August in the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas. A little more than two weeks later, on December 19, Justice Lucas sentenced Salazar to the mandatory life in prison.
The Court of Appeal, however, set aside that conviction and ordered a retrial on the ground that the only identification of Salazar by main prosecution witness, Janelle Longsworth, came as a result of a dock identification and the trial judge had failed to direct the jury to be cautious about the identification.
Longsworth was sitting near the river with August when the chopping incident occurred.
In his second trial in 2010, before Supreme Court Justice Herbert Lord, Salazar was acquitted on a no- case-to-answer submission, based on the premise that there was no identification of him as the assailant who chopped August. (Longsworth was out of the country when Salazar’s second trial began.)
The Director of Public Prosecution was not satisfied with Salazar’s acquittal, so an appeal was filed and the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal, setting the stage for the third trial that concluded today.
Salazar’s third trial began on Monday, June 22. And after the court heard testimonies from nine prosecution witnesses, it was the defense’s turn to put its witnesses on the stand.
Longsworth did not testify in this third trial, and Chief Justice Benjamin did not allow the transcript of the first trial to be used as a part of the prosecution’s evidence against Salazar.
Two witnesses testified in the case for the defense – Salazar’s mother, Soledad Salazar, and a family friend, Verona Chacon.
Salazar also took the witness stand and provided an alibi defense, telling the court that he was not at the crime scene on the bank of the Macal River, where August was found with the fatal chop wound.
Salazar told the court that he was at home recovering from a stab wound that he had suffered about a month earlier, and that he did not have the strength to have inflicted the chop wound to August.
The two witnesses that he provided for his defense corroborated his alibi.
Although Salazar was acquitted of the murder of August, the police van that transports prisoners to the Belize Central Prison from the court waited until the court session was finished, because Salazar was not allowed to go home.
He was taken back to prison, where he will remain on remand for another murder that he allegedly committed when he was freed after being acquitted of August’s murder.
Salazar was charged with the 2010 murder of Marlon Rivera, who was shot along with another man, Dean Dougal. That shooting occurred on June 13, 2010, near the San Ignacio Police Station.
Salazar was captured in Belize City as a result of a tip to Crime Stoppers, eleven days after the shooting of Rivera and Dougal.
Salazar was defended by attorney Oscar Selgado. The prosecution’s evidence was led by Senior Crown Counsel Lindburgh Willis.