MANILA, Philippines - An expert in digital image recognition will be brought in to determine which of the 4 suspects of the murder of a US Marine in Makati is seen in the CCTV footage from the incident stabbing the victim.
"We have asked for the testimony of a video expert who will enhance the video frame by frame in an effort to identify as much as possible the actions of each of the accused and who inflicted the fatal wound," Makati City assistant prosecutor Hannah Arriola told Rappler on Thursday, December 20.
But prior to this witness appearing in court, the company providing security for the Rockwell residential area will have to hand over the original CCTV footage, after the defense suggested the copy submitted to the police may have been tampered with.
The prosecution gave merit to this claim and subpoenaed the tape from Southland Security and Investigative Services, which also employs the security guard who witnessed the crime in the wee hours of the morning on November 24.
A representative from the company said in a hearing on Thursday, December 20, that he will hand over the original footage so it can be scrutinized during the trial.
Arriola confirmed that the defendants -- Juan Alfonso Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Crispin de la Paz and Galiciano Datu III -- appeared in court on Wednesday, December 19, for the first time since their arrest. The 4 were arraigned for murder.
The 4 pleaded not guilty in front of Judge Winlove Dumayas of the Makati Regional Trial Court branch 59. Among those who attended the hearing was US Consul General Michael Schimmel, a former colleague of the victim's wife.
"We are grateful to the Filipinos for the prompt arrest and prosecution of the suspects. We are confident that justice will be served,” he said.
The victim, George Anikow, was a 41-year-old US Marine and husband of a US diplomat based in Manila.
He had advanced combat training and was deployed to hotspots such as Afghanistan, which is being used by the defense to claim that the suspects did not have "superior force" over him in spite of being 4 against 1.
Anikow died from a fatal stabbing wound in the neck, as has been confirmed by a medical report yet to be presented in court.
Trial moving along swiftly
The prosecution is so far satisfied with the speed with which the defendants have been charged and arraigned less than a month after the incident, despite the fact that one of them, Cabrera, has hired as legal counsel Redemberto Villanueva.
Villanueva is a controversial lawyer who used to defend Zaldy Ampatuan and successfully managed to delay the arraignment of the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor in the Maguindanao massacre for 3 years.
Arriola explained that no matter what happens with the identification of actions in the CCTV footage, the prosecution plans to stick to the original murder charges.
"The act of one is the act of all," she said.
The prosecution is arguing that all the defendants engaged the victim and continued to kick and punch him even after he fell to the ground upon being stabbed.
Makati police chief Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban agrees and previously told Rappler that there was "cruelty" on their part that justified the murder charge.
Bail hearings to continue next month
After initially pondering filing a motion for judicial reconsideration of probable charge to downgrade the charge to homicide, the defense moved last week to accept murder but asked the judge to grant bail on a non-bailable offense as there is "insufficient evidence" against the 4.
Judge Dumayas plans to continue the bail hearings in January after the Christmas break, and the suspects will probably show up again in court on January 10, when security guard Jose Romel Saavedra is expected to take the witness stand.
Saavedra, rumored to have been threatened not to show up, is expected to identify the defendants as the same people he saw inside the silver Volvo SUV that was stopped by the guard at the checkpoint to enter Rockwell from Kalayaan Ave in Makati.
Anikow was walking home from a night out drinking when he first approached the checkpoint to harass Saavedra and ended up provoking the suspects to alight their vehicle and engage him in a fistfight. The American bled to death on the side of the road.
Since then Rockwell has deployed additional security at this entrance and instructed its personnel to call for backup at any hint of unruly behavior. - Rappler.com