BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 22, 2018– On Friday, October 19, Supreme Court Justice Colin Williams delivered his verdict in the murder trial of Milton Maza and Eli Lopez Avila, who had been indicted for the October 2010 murder of the attorney Richard Stuart and his accountant wife, Maria Stuart. Justice Williams, reading from his 20-page written judgment, found the two accused guilty of two counts of murder.
Richard and Maria Stuart were viciously stabbed to death in their West Landivar home, sometime after 11:30 p.m. when they returned home on October 16, 2010.
Sentencing of the convicted murderers is scheduled for November 9, when the court will hear mitigation pleas on their behalf.
Under the new regime of sentencing for capital offences, a fixed date sentence has replaced the automatic life in prison sentence for murder, which has been ruled by the higher courts to be unconstitutional.
The trial of the two accused began on Thursday, July 19, and continued to Monday, September 3. In the introduction to his judgment, Justice Williams said, “The Stuarts left their four children in the care of housekeeper, Violet King, and that was the last time King and the children saw them alive.”
King did not know how many persons worked in the Stuarts’ multi-floor building, but only knew that someone who was referred to as “the babysitter” worked on the 3rd floor of the building.
King also identified Maza as a maintenance person who would sometimes run errands for the Stuarts.
On the night before the murders occurred, Mrs. Stuart had called King, who at the time was on duty at the couples’ home, to tell her that they were on their way back home. So King began to make preparations to end her workday and go home, but dozed off a bit and was awakened by the sound of a key falling.
At that point, she heard Mrs. Stuart scream out, and then she heard Mr. Stuart scream, and he asked why.
The eldest of the Stuarts’ children, a boy, ran to the door, but King restrained him and they all hid in a walk-in closet from where King kept calling 911 until the police eventually came.
The Stuarts’ residence is located near to the Landivar campus of the University of Belize and Richard Stuart normally parked his vehicles in the university’s secure compound.
On the night in question, the security guard at the university compound, Ivan Magdaleno, saw two of the Stuarts’ vehicles parked on the compound and saw a third vehicle leave sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The vehicle returned around 11:30 p.m. and Magdaleno said he waited by the gate for about 15 minutes for Stuart to come and park his vehicle, as he normally did, but on that night, Stuart did not come to park the vehicle.
Magdaleno said that sometime after midnight, he saw the Toyota Scion being driven away.
On Monday, October 18, 2010, Sergeant Ishmael Westby spotted Stuart’s Toyota Scion in St. Matthews, a village in the Cayo District. Westby, who was traveling in an unmarked police vehicle, trailed the vehicle until it came to a stop at El Pedrigal Bar and the first defendant, Milton Maza, came out of it.
Westby contacted police via the police radio network and a team of police officers, headed by Inspector Sinquest Martinez, arrived and took Maza into custody. While searching the vehicle in Maza’s presence, the scenes of crime technician came across a knife under the driver’s seat, and that was taken for forensic analysis.
Scenes of crime technician Antonio Manzanero also photographed the right side of Maza’s chest, where there were apparent scratch marks.
Maza was transported to the Eastern Division Police Station, where Inspector Hilberto Romero recorded a statement from him.
Sergeant Rochelle Chan, along with a police team, located the second defendant, Eli Lopez Avila.
When Lopez was found, police also found two cellular phones and other items that they photographed before cautioning Avila, who took police to his home and in a bushy area about 90 feet from his house, showed them a black suitcase and a black bag that were hidden in the foliage.
Scenes of crime technician Manzanero observed a red substance on some of the keys that were retrieved from the suitcase, which was swabbed for scientific analysis.
Lopez also took the police to a house where a third person handed over a gold ring to police.
Lopez, unlike Maza, did not give a statement to police.
During the trial, Crown Counsel Kileru Awich, the lead prosecutor, called nineteen witnesses to testify.
In the caution statement that Maza had given to police, he explained how he and an accomplice traveled from St. Matthews to Belize City with the intention to steal from Richard Stuart’s home, which he (Maza) knew very well, because he was once employed at the house.
When they reached Belize City, they gained entrance to the house by using the scaffolding outside.
Maza told police how he put the items that he had taken inside a suitcase and when the Stuarts returned home, his accomplice was on the lower floor standing guard.
Maza said that he heard someone scream, and he saw his accomplice stabbing Mr. Stuart, who then fell. Maria Stuart was on the floor screaming, and Maza said he saw his accomplice stabbing her several times.
After the stabbings, Maza said he went back upstairs and picked up the suitcase and the other person gave him the knife and told him to wash it off, but he put it in the vehicle that they had taken from the Stuarts.
The Crown’s case against the two accused men was based primarily on circumstantial evidence in a joint enterprise.
Justice Williams found both accused men guilty of two counts of murder each.