Crime — 06 August 2013 — by Rochelle Gillett

Justice Hanomansingh acquitted Vidal on a technicality even before a jury was empanelled

On December 23, 2005, Hortencio Contreras was beaten to death in Belmopan and police arrested and charged Jorge Vidal for the murder.

Vidal has been on remand since then, awaiting his trial which was set to start on Monday, July 29.

But even before a jury could have been empanelled for the trial, Vidal was allowed to walk out of court a free man. That’s because Justice Denis Hanomansingh acquitted Vidal based on a technicality after he reviewed the case bundle.

Magistrate Richard Swift was the magistrate who signed the case over to the Supreme Court, but in 2007, Swift along with six others disappeared at sea. His body was the only one later found.

The technicality on the basis of which Vidal was freed arose from a report from the Superintendent in Benque, Louise Willis, to the DPP, which stated that Sgt. A. Pook marshaled the evidence, while Magistrate Swift committed the accused to stand trial in the Supreme Court.

But while the recognizance of all the witnesses were indeed signed by Magistrate Swift, the actual committal wasn’t. Instead, it was signed by Magistrate Earl Jones, now CEO of KOLBE, on behalf of Swift.

Swift died before he signed the committal and so Jones, who took over the case, signed the committal. Justice Hanomansingh informed the court, however, that no one can sign on behalf of a dead person. With that ruling, Vidal, who was represented by attorney Michael Peyrefitte, was allowed to walk out of court a free man.

The Crown, which was represented by SC Cecil Ramirez, had 11 witnesses ready to testify on its behalf, including Erwin Contreras, at whose house Hortencio had been partying before he was killed. Erwin Contreras was also the person who identified the body of Hortencio at the morgue.

It was alleged that Hortencio, after partying at Contreras’ house, left the party at 2:00 that morning. After leaving the party, he and Vidal allegedly got into an argument that turned physical, and it was alleged that Vidal kicked Hortencio in his head and stomach. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem exam on Hortencio certified that his death was caused by a concussion and abdominal trauma.

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