BELMOPAN–Two foreign nationals, a Salvadoran and a Guatemalan, were freed today in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court after having spent 10 years in prison for a murder that happened in July 2004.
Salvadoran national Carlos Rene Granillo, 38, and Rene Lopez Morentes, 28, a Guatemalan, were both acquitted of murder in the courtroom of Justice Antoinette Moore after it was revealed that the men had been badly beaten to coerce them into giving caution statements in the case.
After the accused men made that disclosure while taking the stand, their attorney, Senior Counsel Simeon Sampson, also submitted that the statements were not given voluntarily by Granillo and Morentes due to the improper conduct of the police.
We understand that the prosecution called seven witnesses to the stand, but in the end, the judge ruled that the statements were inadmissible, so the twelve-member jury was directed to acquit the two men of the murder charge.
Following the session, Sampson told the media why the judge ruled in favor of his clients.
He said, “The problem for the prosecution was that the only evidence against the two men were confessional statements from each [man]. In the trial within a trial, after hearing evidence both for the prosecution and the defense, the learned trial judge, Ms. Moore, ruled that she was not satisfied that these two confessional statements were obtained voluntarily.
“She entertained certain reservations and doubt which swayed her mind in favor of deciding that the policemen used improper and unprofessional tactics in getting the statements, and so she threw out the statements. The men now are free to go, once their immigration statuses are sorted out.”
On July 26, 2004, American retiree Mary Jane Blondell, 73, who lived on a secluded farm in Indian Creek Village off the Hummingbird Highway, was stabbed twice in the neck and buried in a shallow grave about 200 yards from her home.
Police believed that the motive for the home invasion/homicide was robbery.
Two days later, Granillo and Morentes were arrested, charged and remanded to prison until 2007, when they were first put on trial for aggravated burglary and murder.
In April 2007, a jury was hung on the murder charge, so the men were instead convicted for aggravated burglary.
The attorneys for both men pled for leniency for their clients, and in the end, Granillo, who was represented by attorney Hubert Elrington at the time, was given the minimum 10-year sentence for aggravated burglary, while Morentes, who was represented by attorney Linsbert Willis, was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.
The murder case, however, resumed earlier this year, but was struck out today after Madam Justice Antoinette Moore handed down the not guilty verdict.
Granillo and Morentes were returned to the Belize Central Prison this evening, but will be released as soon as all their immigration documents are in order.