MANILA, Philippines - The suspects of the murder of a US national in Makati are changing their legal strategy and now want the judge to grant them bail on their murder charge, a non-bailable offense, the prosecution said on Thursday, December 13.
The lawyers of Juan Alfonso Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Crispin de la Paz and Galicano Datu III all expressed on Wednesday their intention to file separate motions for them to be released on bail, arguing that there is not sufficient evidence of their guilt in the crime.
Makati City assistant prosecutor Hannah Arriola explained that the defendants decided to shift their legal strategy once they acknowledged that the court had already filed an order to commit and had already made up its mind regarding the merit of the murder charge.
Arriola told Rappler that the accused, in particular the counsel of Abastillas, chose to drop their original motions for judicial reconsideration of probable cause asking for a homicide charge to put the burden of proof on the prosecution.
The defendants "recaptioned" their legal strategy to compel the judge to grant them bail on the basis of there not being enough evidence to tie them to the crime, she said.
Photo by Carlos Santamaria
'Spur of the moment' incident
In the hearing on Wednesday, Abastillas counsel Miguel Damaso told Judge Winlove Dumayas of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 59 that the crime was “a spur of the moment, unfortunate incident.”
Damaso insisted that the defendants did not plan to kill George Anikow, who was the one who approached them, all smaller in size to the burly US Marine.
According to the court transcript, the lawyer claimed that there is no merit for a murder charge because there was no intent and no physical superiority on the part of the assailants.
However, the prosecution stuck to its argument, expressed in the original indictment filed on November 29, that “although only one of the respondents may have inflicted the fatal wound on the victim … the presented evidence shows that the other respondents [also] participated in attacking and ganging up on him.”
The CCTV footage shows how the 4 suspects confronted and stabbed the victim after Anikow tapped their car outside a security checkpoint to enter the Rockwell residential area in Makati.
Screenshot from video courtesy of the Makati police
Trial to start next week
Judge Dumayas decided on Wednesday to give until Monday, December 17, for the defendants to file their urgent motions for reconsideration of probable cause.
If the motions are denied, as is widely expected, the suspects will probably be arraigned in the next court session on Wednesday or Thursday, Arriola said.
Lawyer Redemberto Villanueva, representing Cabrera, has already filed separate motions asking his client to be immediately arraigned and granted bail.
Villanueva is a controversial lawyer who used to defend former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov Zaldy Ampatuan in the Maguindanao massacre trial.
Zaldy Ampatuan was finally arraigned on Wednesday, 3 years after the tragedy and after Villanueva retired as his chief legal counsel.
So far, no private attorney has joined the prosecution, but Arriola revealed that a representative from the US Embassy -- where Anikow's widow was employed -- has asked for information about the case.
Screenshot from video footage by Carlos Santamaria
Suspects have no criminal record
Abastillas, Cabrera, De la Paz and Datu had no criminal record prior to this incident, Makati police chief Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban told Rappler in a separate interview.
Lukban explained that his investigators looked into the defendant's background and came up with nothing, except records pertaining to two people with the same names as two of the suspects, which he declined to identify.
"We found namesakes… But it is impossible to consider that they are the same persons" because the police blotters are from 1999, "when they were still in elementary school."
The Makati police has concluded their investigation pending the results of the DNA tests on the murder weapon, a bloodstained tactical knife found in the white Volvo SUV registered to a company owned by the Abastillas family.
The results of the tests will be finalized probably next week, an officer from the PNP Scene of Crime Operations Unit told Rappler.
As for the Volvo, it is still under police custody and will not be released until the defense lawyers admit it as evidence in the trial, Arriola said. - Rappler.com