Chavelo’s Trial Day 7

Below is an account of what occurred on Day 7 of Chavelo’s trial. For Days 1 – 6 please read the Honduras Resists blog entries written by Vicki Cervantes who was in Honduras for the trial. http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com/

Chavelo Trial Day 7:

The trial was scheduled to begin at 8:30am. Many more people had come to sit in the public viewing area than on previous days. There was a group of 12Law School students who took up the seats on the Prosecutions side. There were about 12 or so on the defense side made up of Chavelo’s family, friends from Guadalupe Carney, International Human Rights Observers, 2 members of the Observatory of the Aguán and Dunia Perez, a lawyer from ERIC who is assisting the Defense team. We waited until 9:30 when the judges entered the room. It was immediately announced that Henry Osorto Canales would be the first to testify. This came as a surprise to the Defense because they had not been told that he would testify today. We had been waiting since the beginning of the trial for Osorto to appear as a witness, but the Prosecutor said that he and his office had been calling him and that he had said that he wasn’t going to testify. It appeared to be a clear attempt to manipulate the proceedings by having Osorto’s testimony be a bombshell at the last minute in what had been a very clear cut case of there being no evidence connecting Chavelo to any crime.

Osorto is the ex-military graduate of the School of the Americas who is currently the newly appointed Sub-Commander of the National Police in the Department of Olancho. He is also the head of the Family Osorto who illegally possessed land in what is now Guadalupe Carney which is currently in the possession of the Campesino Movement of the Aguán. It was at the site of his house that the incident occurred in which 6 members of Osorto’s family and 5 guards were killed in 2008. Chavelo was arrested and charged with 12 counts of murder (they managed to find a way to have him accused of killing his friend and fellow campesino Arnulfo Guevara) plus one count of arson and one of robbery. After waiting over 2 years for a trial, Chavelo was convicted of murdering the nephew of Henry Osorto, all the other counts against him were thrown out. After another 2 years, he was sentenced to 20 years. In November of last year, the Supreme Court of Justice annulled his conviction and sentence and ordered the retrial. He has spent over 5 years behind bars despite the utter lack of evidence against him.

Osorto’s testimony was more a rambling diatribe of how the Campesino Movement of the Aguán was nothing more than a bunch of terrorists and criminals and murderers. He said “terrorist” at least 3 times. He stated that he was a campesino and that he and his family were peaceful and never had problems with his neighbors (he would later contradict this). He made references to human rights and his belief in liberty. He went on for a while making these kinds of statements. He then stated that during the incident, he was on the phone with his nephew, Manrique, the one Chavelo was accused of murdering. Manrique described how the house was surrounded by campesinos. Henry states that he asked Manrique if he recognized anyone. His nephew said yes. “I recognize Chavelo Morales.” This is an absolute contradiction to Henry’s testimony in 2010. In that testimony he never asked his nephew if he recognized anyone and the nephew never said the name Chavelo Morales nor Jose Isabel Morales over the phone to him. 

When it came time for cross-examination, it was clear that the Prosecutor was attempting to establish the campesinos as the aggressors and to corroborate Osorto’s previous claims that they were terrorists. He asked how many times the Osorto’s had filed complaints against the campesinos. The Defense objected on the grounds that it was irrelevant to the charges against Chavelo. The judges upheld the objection. The Prosecutor then changed the question to had there ever been any incidences previous to the one in question. The Defense objected, but the court overruled the objection. Osorto recounted the incident in 2000 when his brother was killed by campesinos, a clear contradiction from his previous statement that they were peaceful neighbors. This attempt by the prosecutor was a shining example of how one sided the justice system is, particularly in the Aguán. Only the rich landowner’s version of events gets told and they are in the role of victim.

The Defense lawyer Omar Menjivar didn’t waste time cross-examining. Osorto had perjured himself with the statement about Manrique identifying Chavelo over the phone. Omar immediately petitioned the court to censure Osorto’s testimony calling it, and the Prosecutor’s last minute testimony of Osorto without notifying the the Defense, fraud and an attempt to manipulate the court. The Defense would request three different petitions censuring Osorto, but the judges overruled each. 
The few questions that the Defense asked were to establish that Osorto had been involved in the investigation that led to Chavelo’s arrest.

Today, day 7, is the conclusion with both sides presenting closing arguments. It is expected that the Tribunal will render their verdict as soon as Friday.

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