by Roy Davis (freelance reporter)
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 9, 2023
The appeals of two men, Eli Avila Lopez and Milton Maza, who were convicted of the murder of attorney Richard Stuart and his wife, Maria, and were sentenced to 35 years, were dismissed by Belize Court of Appeal. Their conviction and sentence were affirmed.
The incident occurred on October 16, 2010.
Stuart and his wife returned to their home in West Landivar to find a burglary in progress, and they were brutally stabbed to death by the perpetrators.
The evidence against the appellants began to unfold when two days later, Maza was seen in St. Matthews Village driving a car, a Toyota Scion, which belonged to one of the deceased. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of a cap and a knife with blood stains on it under the driver’s seat, along with other items.
The items were sent for scientific analysis, and it was found that the blood on them matched the DNA profiles of one of the deceased.
Maza gave a caution statement to the police in which he admitted that he and Lopez burglarized the house, but that it was Lopez who committed the murders. He said Lopez gave him the knife with instructions to wash it, but he failed to do so. The police later apprehended Lopez, and a search of his person led to the discovery of a green and white LG phone that belonged to Maria Stuart. Lopez took the police to an area close to his house and showed them a suitcase hidden in some bushes that contained various items, among them three bunches of keys stained with a reddish substance. When tested, the keys contained the DNA of Richard Stuart.
At the close of the case for the prosecution, Maza gave a statement from the dock in which he denied any involvement in the crime. He denied that he was found with the deceased’s car. He said the police framed him for the murder. He also claimed that he was beaten by the police and forced to sign a paper.
Lopez too gave a statement from the dock in which he denied any involvement in the crime. He raised an alibi in which he claimed that on day of the incident he was at home with his wife, and he called on her to testify and corroborate his alibi. He claimed that the suitcase was given to him by Maza, and he denied that any cell phone was found on him.
But the evidence against both appellants was overwhelming, and they were found guilty.
Lopez raised four grounds of appeal. Two of them amounted to the allegation that the evidence adduced to convict him was insufficient. Another ground was that the trial judge’s directions on joint enterprise were incorrect.
Maza also raised three other grounds, but they were not allowed by the court.
Lopez was represented by attorney Leeroy Banner, while Maza was represented by attorney Peta-Gay Bradley. The respondent was represented by the Director of Public Prosecution, Cheryl Lynn Vidal.