Headline — 07 June 2013 — by Miriam Longsworth
Sinquest’s big Belmopan bust!

3 of 4 suspects charged with murder were supposed to graduate from Belmopan Comprehensive High tonight, Wednesday

Rasheed Crespo, 19; Manuel Hernandez, 18; Rudy Santos, 18; and Edwin Paula, 29, have been charged with murder, attempted murder, dangerous harm, use of deadly means of harm, and two counts of robbery today, Wednesday, in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court.

No plea was taken from the men and they have been remanded to the Belize Central Prison until August 22, 2013.

All four men are believed to have been involved in a series of crimes that occurred in the Belmopan area, including a robbery and murder incident that occurred at La Choza Bar in Las Flores, a village in the vicinity of Belmopan, on June 2, 2013, in which the owner of the bar was robbed of a cell phone, cash, and a car, and two others —Isabel Ballona, 43, and Manuel Aguino, 50, were shot.

While Aguino survived the attack, Ballona died as a result of the injuries he suffered. Ballona had been shot in the head.

The other incident for which the four men are believed to be responsible occurred on May 8, 2013, when the accused and two other persons robbed nine students at gunpoint at the University of Belize, Belmopan campus dorms, and escaped with an assortment of valuable items.

Crespo, Hernandez, and Santos were all fourth form students at Belmopan Comprehensive High School and were supposed to be graduating tonight, Wednesday.

The investigation which led police to the four young men took hard work and dedication, noted ASP Sinquest Martinez, Officer Commanding Belmopan Division, after the court session in which the men appeared was concluded.

“For the past two months there was a rise of crime within Belmopan,” he said. “It was plaguing myself and my co-workers. And we sat down Sunday morning, strategized, and from there it was one person that we caught within the area of the call. That’s what caused us to crack the case,” he went on to explain.

Martinez said the investigation was somewhat like a puzzle for them, because after detaining the first person, things began to fall into place.

“The detention of the men started on Sunday morning,” he said. “We started with about seven persons within the Los Flores area, after which, when we went there and conducted searches on themselves and their houses, that’s when we found some of the items, and that just led us to more items,” he said.

The men claimed that they were brutalized by police officers while detained. Some of them had visible bruises on their faces when they appeared in court. They were even sent to the hospital for medical attention.

Martinez, however, denied those allegations.

“You need to realise a car was stolen, the area where we found the car and the way, you can see the damage on the car. So that could have happened when they were in that car,” Martinez said. “It’s not police brutality, because I’m sure we went through the proper procedures pertaining to these young boys, pertaining to this investigation,” he further stated.

Martinez went on to note that none of the men had resisted arrest.

At their arraignment in court, the four were charged with nine counts of aggravated burglary for the UB robbery.

Victims of that incident reported that there were six assailants. Only four have been charged for the offence so far, but Martinez told us that the investigation continues.

“We have several robberies that occurred in this area of the same type, the same nature, and we’re not ruling them out likewise,” he said. “But both the UB aggravated burglary and the murder at the establishment was our primary focus. That created a lot of attention, especially with the University of Belize, the aggravated burglary of these students, as some of them were international students and it went outside. So we had to put a lot of emphasis on this,” Martinez commented.

Martinez said that several of the items from the UB burglary and the robbery at La Choza Bar have been recovered and identified by victims. The weapon that was used in both incidents has also been recovered.

Martinez said that police suspect that the men are part of a gang that is responsible for several incidents that have been reported in the area.

He noted that Paula is no stranger to them, as he had been charged before for similar crimes in the area.

We spoke to the father of one of the young men, and he told us that he does not believe his son is guilty of any of the offences he’s being accused of.

Martinez stated to the media earlier, however, that all the crimes are linked because various stolen items connected to separate incidents were found at the homes of the four men when searches were conducted.

The parents of the three students did not want to talk to the media, but we spoke with a few friends and teachers of the students, who all said that they were shocked to hear about the young men being accused of the crimes. They were not known to be troublemakers, they said.

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