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Without Country
November 16, 2009
Judge frees accused killer of journalist José Everardo Aguilarmod

Popayán Circuit Court Judge Víctor Narváez ordered the release from jail of Arley Manquillo Rivera, a.k.a. Huracán (Hurricane), arrested and charged with being the hitman in the April 24 murder of journalist José Everardo Aguilar at his home. Aguilar, 72, the father of 10 children, was the correspondent of the Radio Súper radio network in Patia, in southwestern Colombian province of Cauca. The Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the judge’s decision.

The prosecution’s evidence, including identification of the accused by Aguilar’s daughter Agnolia, a witness to the murder, was thrown out by the judge. Instead, he believed the defense argument made by Manquillo Rivera, who presented as witnesses his wife and a neighbor to testify that on the day of the homicide he was taking part in a meeting of the local group Acción Social at Government House. This contention was rebutted by the prosecution, which found no evidence that any such meeting had been held.

The prosecution’s appeal must be taken up by December 4, when sentence is due to be pronounced. The Public Prosecutors Office has called for conviction.

According to officials Manquillo Rivera, arrested at a control point located on the Popayán to Timbio highway as he was traveling on a motorcycle, is a member of a criminal gang known as Los Rastrojos (The Weeds) and is said to have been hired for some 15 million pesos ($7,000) to kill Aguilar, who died after being shot several times.

According to Aguilar’s colleagues and children he is believed to have been murdered for his exposures of local government corruption and political wrongdoing. He began to receive threats in 2003 after denouncing irregularities in electoral campaigns for governor and mayors. At that time, his son Martín told the IAPA Rapid Response Unit in Colombia, he was visited by two men who warned him they had been hired to kill him.

Aguilar named a Cauca politician as the one responsible for the attempts at intimidation. In 2006 he was given protection by local police after exposing wrongdoing in the award of health care and education contracts in the El Borde district of Cauca. A week before his death he had announced that he would be making a new denunciation of corruption.

His son expressed the family’s surprise at the judge’s decision to have the accused released, adding, “We are concerned as he was the only person linked to the investigation into the murder, now we go right back to the beginning, there is no killer and much less any mastermind, we have before us yet another case of impunity.”

Aguilar also worked for the newspapers El Violin, Diario del Sur de Pasto, El Liberal in Popayán and El País in Cali, and for radio networks Caracol, RCN, Radio Súper and Bolívar Stéreo.

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