CA dismisses homicide cases vs 3 ex-Ateneo students tagged in Lenny Villa slay
MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals has dismissed the pending homicide cases faced by three former Ateneo de Manila University students tagged in the death of Leonardo “Lenny” Villa during fraternity initiation rites in 1991.
In a 13-page decision dated February 13, the appellate court’s Eighth Division granted the petition of Stanley Fernandez, Florentino Ampil and Noel Cabangon to reverse the Caloocan City regional trial court’s denial of their motion to have their case dismissed in 2012.
The decision, written by Justice Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, said the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in not recognizing the petitioners’ right to speedy trial.
“The proceedings in petitioners’ case were marked with unjustified delays, which were not attributable to the petitioners,” the court said, pointing out the failure of prosecution to comply with court orders and the inaction of the RTC on several motions filed by the petitioners.
The court also noted that the initial trial began only in March 2005, 11 years after the petitioners’ arraignment in November and December 1993. The ruling described the delays as “unreasonable, vexatious and oppressive.”
The other division members, Justices Magdangal de Leon and Jane Aurora Lantion, concurred in the ruling.
Fernandez, Ampil and Cabangon were among the last of the members of Aquila Legis Juris fraternity with pending homicide cases related to the Villa case. The three petitioners were among the nine fraternity members subsequently charged.
The Court of Appeals previously dismissed the homicide case against four of the suspects in 2006 for the violation of the right to speedy trial, but the ruling did not apply to Fernandez, Ampil and Cabangon because they were not part of the petition for the cases’ dismissal.
In the new decision, the appeals court applied its 2006 ruling on the case of the three.
“The petitioners experienced the same delays that the five accused experienced. There is no justification to deprive petitioners of the same rights afforded to the five accused,” the appellate court said.
An eighth accused, Reynaldo Concepcion, sought a separate trial and got his case dismissed in 2002 on the same ground.
Villa’s mother, Gerarda, had said that the right to speedy trial was not applicable to the three petitioners because their arraignment in 1993 took place five years before the Speedy Trial Act of 1998 became effective.
She also said that the petitioners belatedly asserted their right to speedy trial as they did not join the appeals suit that led to the dismissal of the case against the other four co-accused.
The court, however, disagreed.
A total of 35 fraternity members initially included in the charge sheet and an initial batch of 26 were found guilty of the crime of homicide in November 1993 by the RTC. Nineteen of the suspects were later acquitted on appeal by the Court of Appeals; this was also affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court further modified the ruling in 2012 by convicting five of the accused with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
Villa was with seven freshmen law students of the Ateneo Law who underwent the initiation in a house in Caloocan. A violent hazing commenced, with the suspects beaten repeatedly. The following day, the neophytes were made to present plays and play a rough basketball game.
Six more hazing-related deaths took place after Villa’s death, leading to the enactment of the Anti-Hazing Law in 1995.
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