San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Former public defender Burgos commits suicide in cell

Luis Fernando Burgos, a former public defender, committed suicide yesterday in his cell at Costa Rica´s La Reforma prison in Alajuela, northeast of San José, where he was serving 35 years for the 2006 murder of his wife.

Burgos was convicted in late September 2007 in the strangulation of his wife, Maureen Hidalgo, a judicial assistant, in what was arguably the trial of the year.

The period for appeal of Burgos´ sentence expired three weeks ago.

Although no physical evidence was ever found to connect Burgos to the murder, various witnesses came forward with stories that Burgos had told them he had committed the murder in the days following his wife´s disappearance, and two men testified that Burgos asked them to help him remove Hidalgo´s body from the apartment. Also, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall´Anese received an anonymous tip, later revealed to be from Judge Elizabeth Tossi, that Burgos had committed the murder.

Most damning, one of the prosecution´s chief witnesses, Zulay Rojas, a former state prosecutor and ex-girlfriend of Burgos, said Burgos killed Hidalgo at their Zapote apartment in southeastern San José on the morning of July 11, 2006, and then came to Rojas´ house and discussed the murder.

Rojas waited nine days to come forward with information about Burgos´ visit and was charged with withholding information in a homicide, for which she received two years in prison.

Burgos had accused Hidalgo of infidelity. The murder came within a week before the couple´s one-year wedding anniversary.

In addition to his sentence, Burgos was ordered to pay $350,000 in damages to his wife´s family.

The ruling was widely regarded as a significant legal decision in favor of women´s rights in a country where the vast majority of domestic violence cases are never prosecuted.

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