BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 17, 2019– Bert Vasquez, a Belize City businessman who is serving multiple sentences for sexual offences, appeared in the Court of Appeal this morning, clutching his court papers and legal documents in large manila envelopes that has become standard practice for him since he began acting as his own defense attorney at his last Supreme Court trial late last year.
Vasquez managed to beat a forcible abduction rap (a charge for which he had been convicted in another case before another judge), but failed to convince the jury on the attempted rape indictment, of which they found him guilty. For that conviction, Justice Colin Williams sentenced him to an additional 4 years, added to a 10-year sentence he is already serving. Justice Williams’ sentence is to run consecutively to that previous sentence.
Vasquez, 35, engaged the court this morning, which met in a case management conference, to consider his application to have new evidence admitted into his appeal of a conviction on forcible abduction, sexual assault and harm, for which he had been sentenced to 10 and 3 years respectively, after he was convicted in July 2017 by a jury in the Supreme Court of another judge, Justice Adolph Lucas. Those sentences are to run concurrently, committing him to serve 10 years.
Recalling a most traumatic experience, Vasquez’s accuser, a young woman who was 16 at the time she made the allegations, and who was in her 20’s when she took the witness stand to testify against him, cried during her testimony in open court when recollecting the incident, during which she was sexually assaulted and at gunpoint, was forced to perform a sexual act on Vasquez in a secluded area of Bella Vista, in Ladyville, where Vasquez had taken her in his car.
Vasquez’s main contention is that during the pretrial publicity, an interview that the virtual complainant gave to 7News, in which she identified him as her attacker, had prejudiced his right to a fair trial.
To buttress his arguments, he cited inconsistencies in some of what the victim had said in media interviews which were in conflict with what she had told police in her official testimony, which was used against him as evidence at the trial in the court below.
Vasquez’s arguments and recitation of the relevant law and the authorities he cited in his own defense, were eloquently presented. He even managed to stay in line with the appropriate court mannerisms when he was addressing the Justices of Appeal on the bench, referring to them as, “Your Lordships and Your Ladyship.”
Rattling off legal maxims in original Latin appeared to have come easily for Vasquez, who told the court that he is planning to become an attorney. With obvious meticulous care and diligent research of the law, Vasquez made his submission in his application to have the additional evidence admitted in his appeal.
At one point, Justice Awich reminded Vasquez that although his argument was getting through to them, he should try to explain his points in layman’s terms. “You are not an attorney,” Justice Awich told Vasquez.
The Appeal justices on the bench, Justice Samuel Awich, Justice Minet Hafiz-Betram and Justice Murrio Ducille, were patient with Vasquez, allowing him to make his submission, only pausing to question him occasionally.
Vasquez’s submission lasted longer than the half an hour the court had initially granted him to make his oral submission.
It took only a few minutes for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, S.C., to convince the 3-member-panel of Appeal justices that Vasquez and his attorney had time to put the television interview into their defense evidence.
Vidal even explained to the court that the contents of the 2012 interview had been available on the station’s website the very next day after it was aired.
In addition, Vidal told the court that this was not the proper forum for Vasquez to seek to have this kind of evidence admitted, and if the court allowed him to do so, this could open the floodgates for other convicts to try to use the Court of Appeal for the very same purpose that Vasquez was attempting to do, to address trial issues.
The Court of Appeal was not the proper place for this kind of evidence to be admitted, the DPP told the court.
DPP Vidal described the minor inconsistencies from the virtual complainant as inconsequential, because they did not call into question, in any significant way, the victim’s overall credibility as a witness.
At the end of listening to both submissions, the judges rose for an adjournment to deliberate among themselves, before returning into the courtroom to announce that they were refusing Vasquez’s application to have the 7News interview admitted as new evidence in Vasquez’s appeal.
A date for a further case management conference will be set by the court, before Vasquez’s substantive appeal is heard.
Apart from the two sexual offence convictions for which he is serving time, Bert Vasquez is awaiting trial for the June 2012 murder of San Ignacio’s Jasmine Lowe, 16. Lowe’s killing sparked a national outrage that resulted in the formation of “the Jasmine Alert”— a hotline for reporting missing and runaway children.