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Court reduces sentences of journalist's killers

(PERIODISTAS/IFEX) - On 13 November 2003, the First Chamber of the Buenos Aires Province Appeals Court reduced the sentences handed down to the individuals convicted of assassinating José Luis Cabezas, a photojournalist for "Noticias" magazine. Because of a number of legal stipulations, some of those imprisoned for the murder could be released in late 2004.

The Cabezas case trial ended in February 2000. Lawyers for the defence appealed the sentences before the Appeals Court, which determines if due process has been followed in a trial.

All the individuals accused of having had a role in Cabezas's assassination had been sentenced to life in prison. Moreover, Buenos Aires police officer Gustavo Prellezo, the leader of the gang that allegedly assassinated Cabezas, received the highest possible term of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

After deliberating on the matter for almost four years, the court's First Chamber reduced the sentences of the convicted, except that of Prellezo. Miguel Retana, one of the four individuals who allegedly formed part of the criminal gang named "Los Horneros", has died. Gustavo González's and Horacio Braga's sentences were reduced to 20 years, whereas José Luis Auge's sentence was reduced to 18 years. The sentences of police officers Sergio Camaratta and Aníbal Luna were reduced to 25 and 24 years, respectively. Gregorio Ríos, deceased businessman Alfredo Yabrán's bodyguard, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, now faces 27 years in prison.

Argentine law stipulates that the time spent in prison while a convicted individual's sentence is being deliberated counts as double the time served towards the person's sentence. The accused in the Cabezas are considered to have already "spent" 10 years in prison. Prisoners have the opportunity of being released for good behaviour after completing two-thirds of their sentence. As a result, those who face sentences of 12 to 18 years could qualify for early release. Auge, for example, is considered to have "spent" more than 10 years in prison and could be released as early as late 2004.

"There is no justice," said Norma Cabezas, the photojournalist's mother. "Those judges spent four years for this? I did not think they were that insincere." The journalist's sister, Gladys, said the ruling was "unfortunate." "It seems that some people did not understand that these individuals assassinated José Luis Cabezas," she added.

Lawyers Jorge Sandro and Fernando Burlando, who represent most of the accused, and Prosecutor Carlos Altuve will be appealing the ruling before the Buenos Aires Province Supreme Court. Altuve disagrees with the reduction in the sentences whereas the lawyers for the defence are calling for the annulment of the 2000 trial during which their clients were sentenced.

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