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Accused in Sandhill woman’s killing acquitted – key evidence not admitted in trial

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Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2022. 10:10 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Julio Torres and Derry Bennett, charged with the murder of housewife Ofelia Cruz Hernandez in August of 2019 on the Salt Creek Road in Sandhill, Belize District, were found to have no case to answer on a charge of murder in the Supreme Court.

Hernandez was bludgeoned to death inside her home by intruders allegedly intending to steal her common-law husband’s shotgun while he was out on business.

The men both allegedly confessed to the murder in their caution statements to police, but a trial within a trial established that the statements were improperly obtained and as presiding Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Sandcroft wrote in his ruling, “After careful evaluation of the evidence, prosecution did not establish even a scintilla of evidence that could lead the court to convict both men.”

Thus the judge upheld the submissions of no case to answer by defense attorneys Ronell Gonzalez and Velda Flowers.

Crown Prosecutor Jacqueline Willoughby sought to establish the victim was alone inside the house when her partner went to Belize City to run errands and that it was the two accused who entered the house, allegedly hammered her to the head, and left her to die after stealing the shotgun.

But there were no direct eyewitnesses and those who claimed to have seen two persons fleeing the area around the time of the incident were unable to establish their identity to police.

As for the written caution statements and CD which purported to be a recording of the statements as they were given, they were ruled inadmissible by the court because they were not given voluntarily – that police, by violence and threats, induced the men into confessing. Police said the accused were linked to the murder scene by a motorcycle on which they were seen riding up to shortly before the murder. It was also revealed that Torres had been shot by police officers and that Bennett sustained serious medical injuries while in police custody, which was supported by their medico-legal forms.

Without the caution statements, Gonzalez and Flowers argued, the State had nothing else against the duo and certainly nothing to establish them as the killers.

Justice Sandcroft agreed and set the men free.

 

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