Killers Spared Execution In Death Penalty Case… Fortuno’s Opposition To New Penal Code Criticized… 2 Senators Won’t Attend NPP Directory Mtg… 5 Charged With Causing Deaths Of 7 Dominican Migrants… McClintock’s "Friend Of The Court" Appearance Challenged… Doral Financial Sued… "English Only" Movement Criticized… Differences Could Put UPR Strike End At Risk

Two Men Spared Execution In Puerto Rico Death Penalty Case


May 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's chief federal prosecutor said he would continue pressing for death penalty cases in the U.S. Caribbean territory despite a jury's decision opting against capital punishment in the case of two men convicted of murder.

U.S. Attorney Humberto Garcia said the jury did not reach unanimity on Monday when deciding to sentence Hernando Medina Villegas, 24, to life imprisonment for the killing of a security guard during an armored truck robbery on March 27, 2002. Co-defendant Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 25, was also sentenced to life in prison.

"At least one, perhaps more and maybe even the majority were willing to impose the death penalty in this case," Garcia said after leaving the courtroom. "This is a very important message for Puerto Rico. They are willing to consider the death penalty."

If the jury had decided for the death penalty, it would have been the first time in nearly 80 years that someone charged in Puerto Rico would have faced execution. Puerto Rico, an island of 4 million people, abolished capital punishment in 1929. The U.S. possession, however, is subject to federal law, which allows the death penalty in certain cases. Puerto Rico has not held an execution since 1927 when a farmworker was hanged for beheading his boss with a machete.

Garcia said he would continue pressing the U.S. Justice Department to approve requests for the death penalty in Puerto Rico cases. "Federal law is supreme. The jury has spoken and we respect what the jury said, it found these two guys guilty," he said. "In the future, we will continue sending our cases to the Justice Department to consider whether they are appropriate for the death penalty."

Federal prosecutors said they had jurisdiction in the case because the attack on the armored truck interfered with interstate commerce, but death penalty opponents on the island have accused the United States of trying to impose capital punishment in a colonialist fashion.

Both convicts reacted to their sentences by smiling and blowing kisses to their families before hugging their attorneys. Relatives of both men and the victim quickly left the courtroom, many of them crying. Death penalty opponents outside the courtroom erupted in applause after learning of the verdict.

Bus driver Jorge Sotomayor, however, said he thought both men should have received the death penalty. "Those who kill should be killed. They should have paid the same price," 38-year-old Sotomayor said at the end of his route in Old San Juan.

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said the jury acted in accordance with the tradition of Puerto Ricans, one that "loathes and is against the death penalty." Puerto Rico's Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the death penalty violated its 1952 constitution, but a year later, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned the ruling, saying the island is subject to federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision.

The 12-member jury, split evenly between men and women, had been instructed to deliberate the defendants' sentences separately. The jurors decided the punishment for Catalan on April 21 for about nine hours over two days, but U.S. District Judge Juan Perez Gimenez prohibited them from revealing it until they decided Medina's sentence.

The jury deliberated for about eight hours on Monday before deciding Medina's fate. Both verdicts were announced at the same time.

In March, the same jury convicted Medina and Catalan of killing Ranger American Armored Services guard Gilberto Rodriguez Cabrera, 31.

Medina's defense team had argued that his troubled childhood was a mitigating factor that merited sparing his life. Several relatives testified that Medina's father was an alcoholic who beat his wife and children, while his mother sometimes threatened to kill her children.

Prosecutors urged jurors not to accept Medina's childhood as an excuse, saying he "robbed the life of a man" whose "only crime was getting up and working hard." Prosecutors argued that Rodriguez pleaded for his life before being killed.

Catalan's attorneys had argued that his helpfulness to his family, church and community were mitigating factors.


Associated Press writers Laura Rivera Melendez and Frank Griffiths contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Fortuno Rejects Penal Code Because It Doesn’t Favor Investors, Hernández Says

May 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

San Juan (EFE) - House Rep. Charlie Hernández today said Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno is opposed to the penal code because it establishes certain environmental crimes that are counterproductive for some investors who contributed huge amounts of money to Fortuno’s campaign.

Hernández added that the resident commissioner is prepared to "sacrifice the good health of our environment and protection of our limited natural resources to please a very powerful group of contributors to his campaign."

In a written declaration, Hernández specified that during the electoral campaign, Fortuno received $526,919 mostly from the island’s "construction sector."

"That same sector is precisely the one that is trying to derail the establishment of a new penal code. This sector, along with their most important lawyer, Luis Fortuno, has claimed insistently that environmental issues shouldn’t be legislated despite the commercial pollution crisis the country is suffering right now," Hernández said.

2 Senators Won’t Attend NPP Directory Meeting

May 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

San Juan (EFE).- New Progressive Party (NPP) Sens. Jorge de Castro Font and Héctor Martínez won’t attend their party directorate meeting, where NPP President Pedro Rosselló will be the chairman.

The meeting, which will be held during a discussion lead by Rosselló to obtain the Senate presidency, won’t be attended by the party spokesman De Castro Font and Martínez.

Meanwhile, Orlando Parga was evaluating if he would attend the meeting, said Jose Alfredo Torres, press agent for Parga and Martínez.

Last week, Rosselló and De Castro Font had a serious discussion in the Senate, where each gave their opinion of the other.

This altercation occurred after Rosselló revealed he would be doing a negative campaign against senators who wouldn’t accept the opinion of the NPP Delegates Assembly, the political organism that will intervene in the power struggle for the Senate presidency, a position to which Rosselló is aspiring.

Mariely Ortiz, the NPP’s Senate press spokeswoman, confirmed both senators won’t attend the meeting, but didn’t give any reasons for their absence.

The rest of the senators told EFE they will attend the meeting.

Five In Puerto Rico Charged With Causing Deaths Of Seven Dominican Migrants To Face Trial


May 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Five men charged with organizing an illegal sea voyage during which at least seven Dominican migrants drowned in Puerto Rico will be tried on human trafficking charges in July, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

The men, also from the Dominican Republic, were charged with bringing in and harboring aliens, leading to the deaths of the migrants, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss said. They pleaded innocent and face trial July 5.

A makeshift boat packed with 92 Dominicans capsized in rough waters along Puerto Rico's north coast on Dec. 3, killing at least seven migrants, the Dominican Consulate reported. The U.S. Coast Guard says nine died.

Dozens of survivors identified the defendants as the organizers of the trip, and many remain in Puerto Rico to appear as material witnesses, authorities said. If convicted, the five could face a maximum of life imprisonment, said Rodriguez-Coss, who declined to comment further on the case.

Court documents, however, show that prosecutors made plea offers to the attorneys of the five men at an April 14 hearing.

The man charged as being the main organizer of the trip, Leonardo Hilario Hilario, was given a plea deal of 25 years in prison, according to a source close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a judge imposed a gag order. Hilario will reject the offer, the source said.

About 20 material witnesses -- Dominicans who were granted bail but forbidden to work in the U.S. Caribbean territory -- disappeared and it is believed they fled, Dominican Consul General Eladio Espinal Villafana said.

The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed at least three arrest warrants for missing witnesses have been filed, said Manuel Varela, a spokesman for the federal agency.

Last year, 110 illegal migrants were known to have died trying to cross the choppy Mona Passage, a perilous strait separating the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. This year, at least 31 have perished, the Coast Guard says. The numbers are probably much higher because many boats are reported lost and the migrants' bodies are never found, officials say.

About 3,100 migrants -- mostly Dominicans -- have been caught trying to enter Puerto Rico since Oct. 1, the start of the 2005 fiscal year, the Coast Guard says. Authorities detained 8,404 illegal migrants last year. Most are repatriated.

The Dominican Republic has been in economic crisis over the past two years, though there have been signs of improvement in recent months.

About 300,000 Dominicans live in Puerto Rico -- an island of 4 million -- and many are undocumented, officials say. They mainly find jobs in construction, agriculture, as taxi drivers and as housekeepers.

Senator Presents Legal Appeal Against McClintock

May 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) – Popular Democratic Sen. Eudaldo Baez Galib on Monday presented an appeal at the Boston First Circuit Court of Appeals to inform them that the appearances before the court by Senate President Kenneth McClintock are illegal.

McClintock appeared last week, as a representative of the Senate, as a "Friend of the Court" to defend the rights of Puerto Ricans to vote for the U.S. president.

Baez Galib decided then to present his motion, titled "Special Appearance as a Friend of the Court," which told the court about how McClintock’s appearance at the court was found to be illegal, due to Senate regulations and the jurisprudence agreement.

McClintock decided Monday against the statements that Baez Galib made in the Senate.

Baez Galib said the he was not bothered that McClintock went to the court, but objected to the fact that he represented the Senate.

Class-Action Lawsuit Brought Against Doral Financial

May 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) – Shareholders of Doral Financial Corp. on Monday presented the company with a class-action lawsuit to recoup thousands of dollars they say were lost by investments made based on "deceitful" information.

The suit was submitted Monday in Federal Court by a coalition of lawyers from the United States.

The case provoked an investigation on the part of the U.S. Stock Exchange Commission, plaintiffs said.

They also said that "false" information the firm divulged had resulted in the loss of their investments.

The suit says, "as a result of the fraudulent actions of the accused, the loss of market capitalization for the Doral stocks was approximately $2.7 million."

The legal appeal does not specify the number of plaintiffs that allegedly suffered damages.

"English Only" Movement Is Criticized By PR Group

May 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) – The National Action Committee for the Defense of the Vernacular on Monday criticized West Virginia’s recent approval of English as the state’s only official language.

The group said the approval is part of a new movement called "English Only" that is spreading through the United States.

"With this, already 28 states in the union have approved "English Only" in their jurisdictions and soon there could be 29, because the state of Arizona has scheduled a referendum for this year on this issue," said group spokesman Pedro Juan Rua, a political sociologist.

Rua said in a statement that there is a law up for consideration in the U.S. Congress that would make English the official language of all American citizens, including Puerto Ricans.

The group says Puerto Rico must be aware of the "danger for Spanish that could be approaching in the near future," and proposed holding a referendum so the population can choose a policy of the vernacular language as the official language "to protect the country from this threat."

Differences Among Student Groups Could Put Strike End At Risk

May 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) – Differences of opinion among students over the agreement signed by the University Committee Against the Tuition Increase (CUCA by its Spanish acronym), the Brotherhood of Non-Teaching Employees, and UPR President Antonio Garcia Padilla could put the end of the strike, which was announced Sunday, in danger.

The gates of the Rio Piedras campus opened yesterday, after members of the groups signed an agreement to create a committee that will evaluate the tuition hike, and an extension in the tuition increase. They later closed again after disagreements arose.

The evaluating committee will be composed of three professors, three students that signed the agreement, and three employees from the Brotherhood of Non-Teaching Employees.

The agreement also gives the students an extension, which will allow them to pay their tuition until the end of the semester. According to CUCA spokesman Ernesto Chevere, the agreement is an excellent way to resolve the strike.

The president of the General Student Council, Nina Valedon, however, disagrees with the pact. She said the agreement approves Certification 70, the evaluation committee does not have any power to approve or negate the tuition hike, and the extension is the same one students already have.

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