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SC reviews DNA evidence in Bacolod suicide


Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:10:00 04/27/2009

Filed Under: Justice & Rights, Suicide, Police

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines?The Supreme Court this week reviewed the way courts dealt with evidence, particularly the first application of DNA evidence in a 2007 trial, and the criminal liability of a suicide victim?s widow who burned crime scene evidence in 2000.

In an April 16 resolution issued by its special second division, the high court affirmed the liability of a rape convict due to DNA that was retrieved using the SC?s 2007 procedures.

The second division also upheld a justice department ruling that cleared the widow of 26-year-old Bacolod businessman Hanz Dietrich Asetre, who was charged with evidence tampering and parricide when she burned the letters and bed covers that would have established her husband?s alleged suicide.

The bed covers were supposedly wrapped around Asetre?s neck, but the widow, April, disposed of them, leading government prosecutors to assume that a murder was being covered up, according to the court.

But the court said the evidence was just not enough to detain April for parricide.

Pilot

The second division indicated that the tribunal had been monitoring the case of Rufino Umanito, who was convicted by a regional trial court in Bauang, La Union, for rape in 1989.

Umanito had apparently impregnated his rape victim, and both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals decided to pilot on Umanito some advances in DNA testing, which the SC had incorporated in a set of procedural guidelines for the case.

According to the ruling penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga, the convicted rapist had questioned the paternity of his victim?s child (who is now a teenager), and the court pursued the tests to clear up ?many incongruent assertions of the prosecution and the defense.?

The first DNA test, used in a trial, was commissioned in February 2008 by Bauang Judge Ferdinand Fe, and was overseen by the National Bureau of Investigation and by Deputy Court Administrator Reuben de la Cruz.

The test proved that Umanito had fathered the child, the court said.

The court approved Umanito?s petition to withdraw his appeal, which indicated, the tribunal said, that he had accepted the conclusions and penalties imposed by the trial court and the appellate court.

On April 7, the court?s special second division reversed the Court of Appeals? decision, which sanctioned then acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez for ?grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess jurisdiction? because she absolved in April 2002 Asetre and other suspects in the Bacolod parricide case.

In 2000, Asetre, a printing press owner, was rushed to the hospital where he expired allegedly from a hanging. His wife April claimed that he had acted strangely after his mother?s death.

Evidence

But prosecutors charged April, her cousins Galinzchel and Buenaventura Gamboa, and printing press aide Benjie Ebcas with conspiring to murder Asetre, because of the destroyed evidence and because three doctors had testified that it was physically improbable for the victim to hang himself using the bed covers.

Asetre?s relatives pursued the charges because they claimed that April had a feud with her husband over money.

The government prosecutors also cited the fact that April consistently opposed efforts to exhume Asetre?s body for autopsy, and had even sued law enforcers for proceeding with their examinations.

According to the court, Gutierrez ?reversed then investigating prosecutor?s resolution, not because she believed the ?suicide theory? ? but rather because she did not find sufficient evidence to sustain the theory of the prosecution of ?conspiracy to commit murder.??

It concluded that Gutierrez had not abused her authority because she indicated that evidence still cast doubts about a suicide.

Elmer Kristian Dauigoy, with a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon


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