Like many of her witnesses, state prosecutor Giselle Rivera has received threats, she just doesn’t like talking about them because they can impede upon her objectivity.
“I don’t want to die, but if it’s my time to go, they’ll kill me and it’ll be over with,” she said, her eyes glaring intently from behind her straight, maroon hair.
The previous prosecutor on the case she’s now handling, the 2001 murder of Colombian-born radio journalist Parmenio Medina, requested a transfer after receiving repeated threats.
“They hired hit men to kill her. They’ve hired hit men to kill me, but I’m not that scared,” she said, sitting in her office at the San José court building. “If not me, who else is going to stand up to these criminals?”
Rivera has asked for 51 years in prison for Catholic priest Minor Calvo and his business partner Omar Chaves for having allegedly authored the July 2001 murder of Medina, who had reported on his radio program that Calvo embezzled $2.6 million from donations to a Catholic radio station and spent it on personal luxuries such as Caribbean cruises.
The perplexing murder case involves nine suspects, some 110 witnesses, 800 pieces of evidence, nine volumes of files and 91 tapes of bugged phone calls, and has been dragging on for nearly seven years. The trial itself, which is in its final stages, has been going on for nearly two years.
Rivera excuses herself for being a bit livid, but this morning the court suspended the Medina case for a “high-risk” hearing of a suspect in a recent prison escape at the La Reforma prison.
“And the court has the nerve to complain about how long this case has been going on,” she said.
The 45-year-old prosecutor who was trained in organized crime at the International Police’s (Interpol’s) headquarters in France, says about half of her 110 witnesses have received threats. Witnesses and even reporters covering the case have been threatened with phone calls, visits to their homes, people posing as police telling them not to testify, one witness was shot at, and another witness even received a threat that was written with letters from newspaper clippings pasted together on a blank piece of paper.
“As if this were a movie or something,” she said with a smirk, before whipping out a copy of the threat letter.
Defense attorney Mario Cambronero said this week he doubted threat allegations against Rivera, since she refuses to give details about them, and saying that her claims “lack objectivity.”
As the trial came to a recess Sept. 28, nine Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) agents and three riot police with protective equipment and automatic weapons escorted the accused men out of the courtroom.
Death of a Newsman
Parmenio Medina was shot pointblank three times in the head and torso outside his home July 7, 2001. He had produced a series of investigative reports about then widely popular and now-defunct Catholic radio station Radio María, which was founded and managed by Calvo and bankrolled by Chaves (TT, Jan. 9, 2004). According to Rivera, between 1999 and 2001, the radio station received nearly $3 million in donations, the majority of which Calvo and Chaves used to buy the radio station’s building and to pay for luxuries that included cruises to the Bahamas and Florida, fine clothes and dining, DirecTV, a jet ski, two housekeepers as well as favors for family and friends.
Rivera has alleged that Chaves and Calvo paid a total $25,000 to contract an intermediary, Colombian John Gilberto Gutiérrez, to hire hit men to take out Medina thereby silencing the reports on his satirical radio show “La Patada.”
Nicaraguan-born Luis Alberto Aguirre, a defendant who was identified by witnesses at the scene of Medina’s death, has confessed to the murder and claims Chaves and Calvo had nothing to do with the killing.
Aguirre, also known as “El Indio,” has told The Tico Times in an interview from prison that he was paid by two unnamed Costa Rican politicians who wanted to silence Medina’s reports about their alleged drug use and “corruption of a minor” (TT, April 16, 2004).
Prosecutor Rivera claims Aguirre, who is already serving a total 55 years in prison for assault and bank robbery convictions, was paid off by Chaves and Calvo to take the fall.
Rivera claims Aguirre was at the scene because he was the driver and two other men, Juan Gabriel Carvajal and Rándal González, were the shooters. Though Costa Rican investigators didn’t have the technology to match the bullets found in Medina’s body to the only weapon that was recovered, Rivera brought in Spanish forensic experts to testify that the weapon Carvajal allegedly used could have matched the bullets.
Though defense attorneys say Medina’s mocking investigative reports had won him many enemies who would have wanted him offed, Rivera says Medina had only received threats that she traces to Calvo and Chaves.
The direct evidence in the case is limited, Rivera admits, but circumstantial evidence abounds.
Rivera also used as evidence a wiretapped phone call after the murder in which Calvo instructs a suspect not to tell investigators about money he was given to pay the others.
Rivera called the intermediary Gutiérrez “stupid” for having contracted so many alleged suspects to assist in the murder.
State prosecutors have requested 30 years for Gutiérrez. They’ve requested 30 years for González and Carvajal, who allegedly fired the shots that killed Medina; and another 30 for Aguirre, who was driving the car the shooters were riding in. Prosecutors want 20 years for Danny Smith and Juan Hernández for being accomplices by allegedly following Medina before the murder and helping hide the vehicle used during the murder.
Allegations against Jorge Castillo, who was another alleged intermediary in the coordination of the murder, were dropped since witnesses against him withdrew their testimonies.
Prosecutor Rivera spent the past couple weeks wrapping up her closing arguments in the case, and defense attorneys began theirs Sept. 28. A verdict is expected in coming weeks.