Crime & Justice

Ecuador intensifies search for police officer suspected of killing wife

Quito, Sep 21 (EFE).- Ecuador’s interior minister on Wednesday announced the intensification of the search for police lieutenant Germán Cáceres, the main suspect in the alleged murder of his wife who disappeared after visiting him in a police training school and whose remains have now been found.

At a press conference at Quito’s Higher Police School, from where the lawyer disappeared, Patricio Carrillo said that human remains found on a hill near the police compound on Wednesday are 99.9 percent lawyer María Belén Bernal’s, according to the initial forensic results.

The minister, who refused to accept that the case was a state or institutional crime, said that the death of the lawyer was “an act committed by an irrational person” who was prevented neither by cadets nor officers at the scene.

“This pain we feel does not allow us to leave for later” any details of the investigation, the minister added at the press conference in which he was accompanied by other police officers, including the commander general, Fausto Salinas.

Carrillo said that he has asked the prosecutor’s office to link to the investigation 12 officers that have already been probed and who have claimed to have heard the victim’s cries for help.

Their preventive detention has also been requested as there is enough evidence to link them, either by action or omission, to the alleged crime, the minister added.

Although he clarified that the prosecutor’s office was heading the investigation and thereby in charge of putting together the criminal matters of the process, Carrillo said that the case was about an “involuntary disappearance that ended in death,” which could also be considered “femicide.”

Responding to claims that the case amounted to a state crime or a crime against humanity, the minister denied that the police as an institution was involved but added that the relevant judicial authorities would be respected.

Bernal’s mother, Elizabeth Otavalo, who went to the forensic police department to verify the remains found on Wednesday near the police school, asked the academic institutions for help in uncovering the truth.

Otavalo also sent a strong message to President Guillermo Lasso, who was the first to report the discovery of Bernal’s remains.

“President, I demand justice. This is a crime that happened at the police training school. My daughter was taken from me by a fugitive police serviceman. I ask the universities for support in legal medical examinations. I need to know the truth,” she added.

After the minister’s press conference, a large group of people gathered outside the police school to condemn the authorities’ attitude with regard to the case.

“Out, Carrillo, out!” shouted the protesters, who have been with Bernal’s family since her disappearance came to light.

“There they are, those are the ones who take care of the nation,” was another of the slogans shouted by the crowd, especially activists from feminist groups.

The Bernal case became known after her family reported that they had not heard from her since Sep. 11, when she went to the police school, where her husband worked as an instructor.

The prosecutor’s office took a first statement from Cáceres but released him as they did not find sufficient evidence to order his preventive detention. Cáceres fled after giving the statement and remains a fugitive.

According to Bernal’s mother, during early investigations, her daughter’s phone, purse, wallet and shoe were found “at the training school, under some stairs.” EFE


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