Day 1: Murder Trial for Death Of Gabriel Cruz begins
It is "very difficult to convey the pain" Gabriel Cruz's parents feel to the court, their lawyer, Francisco Torres, said after "almost daily" contact with them since the death of their son in March 2018: "that much evil does not fit in".
Ángel Cruz and Patricia Ramírez did not attend the first session of the trial.
The defendant, Ana Julia Quezada Cruz (Dominican Republic, 1974) arrived in court having changed her appearance compared to the well-known images published over the past year-and-a-half: her hair straightened, without glasses and dressed in white.
Visibly upset during the hearing, she gripped a white handkerchief in her hands and tried repeatedly to hold back her tears. The judge presiding over the trial, Alejandra Dodero, ordered a National Police officer to remove her handcuffs.
"There is no dispute here that there is a death", said Quezada's counsel, Esteban Hernández Thiel: "we even know that the defendant deeply regrets it". He stressed, however, there were differences between the prosecutor's account and the private prosecution's account, which the private prosecution team also highlighted, but for different reasons.
Gabriel Cruz normally lived with his mother, Patricia Ramírez. His father, Angel Cruz, enjoyed a custody regime of alternate weekends as well as visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On February 27, 2018, he, his son and the defendant were in the town of Las Hortichuelas (Almería) to spend time at his mother's (Gabriel's grandmother's) house. Mr. Cruz was working that day in the nearby town of Vicar.
Both the Prosecutor's Office and the private prosecution claim that at 3:30 p.m. that day, after lunch, the boy decided to go to his cousins' house, about 100 metres away. The defendant left "immediately" afterwards and intercepted him on the track in her Nissan car, convincing him to get in and to go with her to paint a house at another family property in Rodalquilar, about 3 or 4 kilometres away.
She acted in "a meditated, cold" manner, according to the Prosecutor's Office, and the boy, "faced with the trust" of a question from his father's partner, "agreed to it".
Her defence counsel, however, argued that Quezada left the house about 10 minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., and that she had previously asked not only Gabriel but also his grandmother if they both wanted to go to paint the house in Rodalquilar, "a property where nobody is going to hear you", in the words of Francisco Torres, counsel for the private prosecution.
"That doesn't make sense if she was thinking of killing the boy", said Mr. Hernández Thiel.
Once in Rodalquilar, Quezada showed "absolute contempt" for Gabriel's life, said the prosecutor, Elena María Fernández, and "in cold blood" used a "sudden, immediate, unpredictable" force "disproportionately", throwing the child against the ground and then asphyxiating him, digging a well with a shovel and trying to cut off his arm at the wrist to shove him in to the hole.
"The child Gabriel Cruz died the same day of the disappearance". He could not expect, said Mrs. Fernández, that his father's partner would do that to him and, given the defendant's attitude and physical superiority, he had "no option of leaving that property alive".
The private prosecution also highlighted Quezada's "coldness": she first "began beating" Gabriel "repeatedly"—"blow after blow", in the words of counsel—causing a brain haemorrhage and edema, before proceeding to suffocate him.
In a dramatic gesture before the court, Mr. Torres covered his mouth with both hands and insisted it would be impossible, given the bruises described in the forensic report, for Gabriel to have died only by suffocation, as the Prosecutor's Office maintains.
Contrary to the thesis of the public prosecutor, the lawyer argued that after the attack, there was "about an hour with the possibility of [Gabriel] being saved, with a call [being made]". A call the defendant did not make: she saw the child "still breathing", "saw him babble", "and there she suffocated him".
Quezada's defence team argued their client had no intention of killing Gabriel. The child, said Mr. Hernández Thiel, was the one who took up the axe to threaten and insult her, telling her that dad should be with mum and not with her, calling her "an ugly black woman".
Given the attitude of the child, the defendant proceeded to "cover his mouth so that he would not utter more insults". That action would lead to the death of the child, but not intentionally.
Quezada "refused to answer the judge about why she undressed the child", Mr. Torres said. He admitted he could not prove the reason why to the court but suggested anyway to the jury that it was to dismember the boy. The defendant shook her head in denial as she listened to the theory, and again tried to contain her tears.
During the search for Gabriel, Quezada "went practically every day to the Rodalquilar property", according to the prosecution statement, knowing that the body was hidden there. She put it in the boot of her car on March 11 to try to transfer it "to a big greenhouse", while uttering "expressions lacking the slightest sense of humanity".
The court is expected to hear the recording of those expressions next week.
In the meantime, she pretended to be upset and affected and assured the boy's parents that "today we are going to find him".
She even took part, according the private prosecution statement, in a large public support march wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "we are all Gabriel". The Prosecutor's Office said her performance over those days showed an "absolute disregard for the emotional state of the parents", a public "simulation, manipulation [and] farce", combined with an "over-performance" in the media.
"She slept with [Gabriel's] father every day" during the search, Mr. Torres added.
The parents have been severely affected by a person "in their most intimate family environment", suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and still need treatment with medicine and psychotherapy.
"The intention of the defendant in the days afterwards was not to increase the suffering" of the parents, replied Mr. Hernández Thiel for the defence, but "to unload the weight she was carrying" because of the unintended death of the child: "She did not flee the country".
"There is talk of premeditation", he said, but that would be "a huge fudge" as a plan, given the number of people and media outlets that turned up to help.
The private prosecution team suggested a double motive for the crime: economic in relation to the value of the properties—an extreme Quezada again shook her head in denial at while the lawyer was speaking—and that Gabriel "bothered her" in her romantic relationship with Ángel Cruz, because of the custody arrangement.
Was her real intention to "kill or silence him?", Mr. Hernández Thiel wondered: was she seeking to harm the parents, "or did she not know what a mess she had gotten into"?
The Prosecutor's Office reminded the jury that "they must make an effort to abstract out" of all the media attention that the case has received, but that "we all have children, grandchildren, nephews" and that "we are going to defend the main right in our Constitution , which is the right to life".
"[Our] only interest, as yours should be, is to do justice."
"I have the legal conviction that Ana Julia Quezada murdered Gabriel Cruz", Mrs. Fernández concluded.
The lack of intention theory does not hold, the private prosecution argued, when it comes to "someone as very bad as the defendant".
The role of a defence, said Mr. Hernández Thiel, is "to try to balance out the scales" of Justice.
The judge accepted two additional expert reports proposed by the public prosecutor to facilitate a better understanding of the facts by the jury: a photographic report of the place Gabriel disappeared and an economic report that quantifies the search work done to try to find him.
Ana Julia Quezada (Dominican Republic, 1974) stands accused of murder, in relation to the death of 8-year old Gabriel Cruz in March 2018, two counts of psychological abuse in relation to the boy’s parents, Patricia Ramírez and Ángel Cruz, and one count of a crime against moral integrity, in relation to the father.
The trial will continue tomorrow at the Provincial Court in Almería when the defendant will take the stand. Gabriel's parents and several relatives will also testify. The 9-person jury—seven women and two men—is presided over by judge Alejandra Dodero. The Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a whole-life sentence.
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