Tense atmosphere in the courtroom as lawyers for the defense storm out in “pacific resistance”

Kristin Donovan

Defense lawyers caused an uproar yesterday morning by storming out of the courtroom in protest of Judge Barrios’ decision to continue the trial, as a small group of the defendants’ supporters burst into applause. Judge Barrios immediately declared that the attorneys were abandoning their clients in violation of the law and ordered security to bring them back in. Her declaration was followed by a collective expression of support from the audience. Observers lamented that the defense attorneys were making a mockery of the judicial process. 

Barrios began the yesterday’s hearing by stating that the court had attempted to locate one of the defense witnesses, Gonzalo Asturias Montenegro, at the address provided by the defense only to find that Montenegro had not lived at the residence for ten years. Before she could continue to inquire into the other witnesses that the defendants have failed to produce this week, the defense called for the trial to be suspended, stating, with a bit of irony, that Judge Barrios had overstepped her authority in accepting the admission of late evidence submitted by the defense. On February 4, Judge Galvez of the First Instance rejected evidence of the defense submitted after the deadline and the defense filed an “amparo” arguing for the inclusion of the evidence. When the trial began in late March, Judge Barrios provisionally accepted the late evidence even though the resolution of the “amparo” was still pending in the Constitutional Court. On April 3, the Constitutional Court ruled that the evidence in question be accepted. At this point, according to the defense, Judge Barrios should have suspended the trial until the competent judge of the First Instance could have made a pronouncement on the evidence in question. Almost screaming into his microphone, defense attorney Calderon demanded that the trial be suspended until the First Instance could rule on the evidence. A heated back and forth followed in which Barrios refused to suspend the trial explaining that she had followed the correct procedures throughout the trial. 

Calderon then denounced the trial as “illegal” and “corrupt”, declared his right to “pacific resistance”, and marched out of the court along with the other defense attorneys. Media swarmed the floor of the court in a rush to capture images of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez sitting next to the empty seats of their defense attorneys. Despite Judge Barrios’ call for security to bring the attorneys back into the court, the attorneys were not apprehended. Barrios stated that the court would provide the defendants with public defenders if their attorneys did not return the following day and adjourned the trial. 

While I am not a lawyer and have only witnessed a few hearings while accompanying human rights lawyers in Colombia, I have been shocked this week by the behavior of the defense attorneys- not only by their theatrical antics in the courtroom, but also by their failure to display even the pretense of an attempt to substantiate their claims that Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez are not responsible for committing a genocide against the Ixil people. According to many advocates who have been following the case, rather than presenting a strong case based in fact and law, the defense is instead working to delay the resolution of the case and to document as many potential irregularities as possible in hopes of winning on appeal. 

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