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Proving murder

/ 05:02 AM January 01, 2021

What a grim topic at the end of a dim, long year! But write we must to speak the truth.

A killing is a killing is a killing. There is a universal abhorrence to taking the life of another — whether it be from God’s command of “You shall not kill,” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ “everyone’s right to life.” Even in legal executions in so-called modern societies, we human beings find the taking of human life distasteful and wrong.

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Our penal code criminalizes murder by defining its three elements. If all the elements are present, the act of killing is proved and it is murder.

Element No. 1 is that a person is killed. In the case of the Paniqui shooting, there were two persons who were killed. The documentary evidence is the death certificate signed by the coroner that will state the cause of death as from two gunshot wounds. Two bodies in caskets and buried six feet under in the presence of family seal any question about the persons killed and their identities. In legal parlance, the “corpus delicti” or the “body of the crime” is clearly established.

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Element No. 2 is that the accused killed the victims. In this case, a certain Police Staff Sergeant Jonel Nuezca is the accused. He is not a person of interest or a suspect, because there is no doubt that he was the one who shot Sonya and Frank Gregorio. There were several eyewitnesses when he pulled the trigger four times using his 9mm service firearm, and the whole incident was also caught on video.

The primary evidence is the testimony of eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses to the crime are most crucial as evidence, hence the difficulty of prosecuting private crimes with no witnesses aside from the victim, as in rape, or street crimes like the break-in of vehicles in the dead of night. Worse, it is also why witnesses to crimes are rubbed out even during the time of trial.

The forensics examination and ballistics report should conclusively show who is the perpetrator, from the fingerprints on the firearm to the bullet fragments and how they match with the fired gun. In fact, right inside the Philippine National Police Headquarters in Camp Crame is a state-of-the-art Integrated Ballistic Identification System that performs such functions to solve crimes.

That the whole shooting incident was captured on video and uploaded on social media, which made the footage of the criminal incident go viral, is only secondary evidence. Thus, it is not accurate for the PNP chief to say that the video is strong evidence but with the condition that the girl who took it must testify. It is the other way around: Videos are considered as evidence only if there are persons who can attest to their recording.

The third and last element of murder is that it must be committed with a qualifying circumstance. The legal concept is that murder as a form of killing is done with treachery (loosely, “pagtataksil,” or, closer, “pagtatraydor”), as when the accused employed means or methods to ensure that the killing was without risk to himself from any defense that the victim might do.

In the Paniqui killings, the accused, who is at least double the size of the half-clothed male, restrained the Gregorio son using a hand-on-wrist grip and pinned him against a half wall. In terms of strength, the cop was twice stronger and bigger than both victims combined. The male victim engaged in verbal retorts and did not try to break free or run away. The female victim resorted to hugging her child to protect him and prevent him from being dragged away or becoming involved in any physical altercation that she likely thought would have made matters worse. She did not realize that her hold on her son might have also prevented him from instinctively parrying or grappling the gun when death was imminent in his face.

Everyone at the scene of the crime knew that the accused was a policeman and that he had a gun. Contrary to the Facebook post of Police Captain Ariel Buraga (“Lesson learn kahit puti na ang buhok o ubanin na tayo eh matuto tayo rumespeto sa ating mga kapulisan. Mahirap kalaban ang pagtitimpi at pagpapasensya”), it was actually the respect (and fear) of the policeman that resulted in the victims’ timid and cowed behavior.

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This defenseless response in the face of overwhelming force from a known personality in the community, one with a string of cases that includes homicide acting with impunity, plus the quick head shots one after the other and another two head shots as insurance bullets — all these constitute treachery.

From a legal standpoint, that the male victim was firing an illegal firecracker, or that the accused felt sorry for his crime and apologized afterward, is immaterial. But proving murder is an affair for the courts. From our experience of such cases involving policemen (and politicians), the long trudge of judicial procedure is another form of slow death for the victims, their families, and our country.

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Geronimo L. Sy is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice. He set up the department’s Office of Cybercrime and Office for Competition.

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TAGS: Frank Gregorio, Geronimo L. Sy, Jonel Nuezca, Sonya Gregorio, Tarlac double murder
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