MANILA, Philippines?(UPDATE) Philip Medel lived in relative comfort inside a spacious cell at the Pasig City Jail before he succumbed to pneumonia on Wednesday night, the jail warden said.
Hilbert Flor said Medel, one of the prime suspects in the Nida Blanca murder case, had been held with 13 other inmates in a cell that could accommodate 30 detainees. His fellow inmates are either detained there on minor offenses or have serious health ailments, Flor said.
Flor said he was prepared to answer any accusations of neglect on the part of the jail officers, as well as the insinuations that there could be foul play.
?He was staying in the newest building. The area is well ventilated?the air can circulate around the room?and it is near the infirmary,? Flor said.
He added that he had granted Medel's request to be transferred to that building last year because he was suffering from hypertension.
On the other hand, Medel's lawyer Salvador Panelo said he would first consult Medel's family whether to pursue the possibility of foul play in his death.
On orders of the national headquarters, Eastern Police District director, Chief Superintendent Benjardi Mantele, created a task force to investigate Medel's death and designated the Pasig chief-of-police, Senior Superintendent Jessie Cardona, as the head of the probe team.
Panelo said it was a shame that Medel, 62, died without being exonerated of a crime he supposedly did not commit and after spending so many years in prison. ?He had always maintained that he was innocent,? he said.
The lawyer said Medel's death meant the Nida Blanca murder case might become just another ?unsolved crime.?
?The death of the accused will extinguish his criminal liability, and the trial will have to be terminated,? he said.
He said the prosecution's evidence had been so weak it prompted the American judge who was hearing the extradition proceeding against Blanca's husband Rod Strunk to junk the case outright.
Blanca was bludgeoned and stabbed to death on November 6, 2001 in the parking lot of Atlanta Center in Greenhills, San Juan City.
On November 19, 2001, Medel confessed to the murder and implicated Strunk as the mastermind. But he recanted this confession a few days later, saying he had been tortured by the police.
Before he could be charged, Strunk left for the United States in 2002 to visit his ailing mother, Helen Strunk. He never returned to the Philippines.
Murder charges were eventually filed against him but he successfully evaded extradition from the US after Medel recanted his statement. Strunk died in July 2007 after falling from a two-story inn in Tracy,
California in what the police there ruled a suicide.