Amidst the international furor over the brewing spat between the two Koreas and the Wikileaks dump of thousands of classified or secret American communications, on the local scene, the main media focus has been on the impending Supreme Court decision on the infamous Vizconde massacre, where the main suspect, Hubert Webb, is hoping that he will finally be freed after 15 years in jail. This is after former policeman Gerardo Biong was released from prison after serving more than 12 years for having destroyed the evidence at the crime scene.
For those unfamiliar with the case, back in June 1991, the bodies of Estrellita, 57, Carmela, 19, and Anna Marie Jennifer, 7, were found brutally stabbed to death in their Paranaque home; Carmela, the elder daughter, was even raped before she was murdered. A group of men, including Hubert Webb, the son of then-Senator Freddie Webb, were arrested for the grisly murders. The lawyers of Webb presented evidence that Hubert was out of the country at the time of the murders, but then-Judge (now Court of Appeals Justice) Amelita Tolentino convicted Webb and his companions for the crime, basing her decision on the positive identification of eyewitness Jessica Alfaro. Webb and his companions were sentenced to life in prison.
At the time, to the general public, it appeared that it was a case of the rich and powerful finally getting nailed for their crimes. But, after 19 years since the murders, the case has been revisited over and over that there seems to be enough evidence to actually acquit Webb.
While an alibi is considered to be one of the weakest forms of legal defense, Webb’s lawyers presented evidence to show that he was out of the country. This included affidavits from the U.S. Immigration Service, as well as photographs and receipts that bolstered Webb’s assertion that he was not in the country at the time of the murders.
At the same time, while Alfaro, the key witness, positively identified Webb as the main suspect, her credibility as a witness has been in doubt due to the fact that she was a former drug user, and was likely on drugs when she witnessed the crime. Despite this, Judge Tolentino gave more credence to Alfaro’s testimony and used it as the basis of her decision to convict Webb.
What I also find strange is that Judge Tolentino denied Webb’s request to have the semen stains obtained from the victims' autopsy tested for DNA, which may have conclusively established Webb as the murderer or not. At the time of the trial, DNA testing was already an accepted way of proving guilt or innocence. Perhaps, however, Judge Tolentino could be excused for this, since the evidence might have been tampered with, making such test results questionable.
What cannot be excused is that neither the court nor the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) preserved the DNA samples, especially since the Supreme Court ordered the testing to be done. Instead, the samples were lost, which resulted in both parties pointing fingers as to who was responsible for the loss. With the loss of the samples, there can be no DNA testing, and, Webb's lawyers are using this as part of their argument to release Webb.
The Supreme Court is now set to make its final decision on the case. On one hand, it could uphold the decision of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and affirm Webb’s life sentence. On the other hand, it could declare Webb not to have been the murderer, and set him free. Whichever the decision, I hope that the SC justices will study the case carefully, and make the decision that does justice.