Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Prosecutor protests no rebuttal in rape case

By Tarra Quismundo -- Inquirer

THE Subic rape case has taken an even more controversial turn, with a member of the state prosecution panel denouncing the decision of the panel chair to waive the rebuttal of defense evidence that might have cast doubt on the testimony of prosecution witnesses.

In a phone interview yesterday with the Inquirer, State Prosecutor Hazel Valdez assailed Senior State Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos for canceling the planned presentation of rebuttal witnesses without consulting “Nicole,” the Filipino complainant against four US Marines, or her private lawyer Evalyn Ursua.

Valdez is the only one among the five state prosecutors whom Nicole had wanted to retain.

“I stand firm on the position that we should have presented rebuttal witnesses. I still believe we made a good case, but we should’ve taken this opportunity rather than regret it in the future. Because what if the decision is an acquittal?” said Valdez.

Asked what she believed was behind the waiver of the planned rebuttal, Valdez said: “You would suspect the timing. I can’t discount the possibility that the decision had something to do with their (Nicole and Ursua’s) reiteration of the request to replace the panel.”

Asked whether she could face the consequences of her decision to oppose the stand of her colleagues, she said: “I am ready. This is all about standing up for what I believe is right. Besides, it’s not only the Department of Justice that needs lawyers.”

A mother of three, the 32-year-old Valdez has been with the DOJ for a year and two months. She had spent five years with the Public Attorney’s Office and roughly a year with a private law firm.

Around noon Thursday

Valdez said that the state panel decided on the waiver of rebuttal on Wednesday afternoon, and that she learned about it only “around noontime” on Thursday.

At around 1 p.m. Thursday, the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 139 received by fax the panel’s manifestation informing the court that it had dispensed with the planned rebuttal.

The document lacked Valdez’s signature.

The state panel’s decision closed the four-month-long trial within the same hour, and Judge Benjamin Pozon tentatively scheduled the reading of his verdict on Nov. 27.

Valdez told the Inquirer that she “took offense” at belatedly receiving information on the dropping of the rebuttal, and personally asked De los Santos: “Don’t you think we owe it to the complainant to inform her?”

De los Santos, who once called Nicole and her mother “ingrates,” purportedly replied: “I don’t care.”

The state panel had planned to recall to the stand agents Tony Ramos and Guy Papageorge of the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in light of the testimonies of accused Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier.

Smith, accused of raping Nicole on the back seat of a moving van in the Subic Bay Freeport on Nov. 1, 2005, as Carpentier, and Lance Corporals Dominic Duplantis and Keith Silkwood purportedly egged him on, had told the court that the NCIS “misquoted” his narration of what had happened in the van.

Carpentier had said an NCIS report on his statement on the purported rape bore minor discrepancies.

De los Santos could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But in a previous interview, she said the panel decided to forego the rebuttal because the two NCIS agents had already shown that they had no reason to file an inaccurate report on the statements of the accused.


Asked yesterday to comment, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the four other state prosecutors were justified in their decision to allow the case to rest without rebuttal.

“You know, a rebuttal witness can work for or against them. The presentation of a rebuttal testimony can go either way because you are not sure what, for example, the defense has on a witness,” Gonzalez said.

He added: “Let’s take this particular case. The prosecution wants to recall the NCIS agents. But suppose [the agents] modify their testimony? You can never be 100-percent sure that because you recalled a witness, he will say something favorable.”

According to Gonzalez, the prosecutors believed that the evidence they presented was strong, and thus decided to stick with what they have.

“That was the reason—they have assessed it and they decided to not anymore disturb the findings because it might actually do more harm than good. They thought it’s OK already. Why disturb it? Why give the defense a chance, another opening, to hit back at you?” he said.

Gonzalez also denied that Valdez had been left out of the decision to waive the rebuttal: “Valdez walked out because she disagreed with the assessment of the four [other prosecutors] that the evidence was sufficient. It is not true that she was not part of the decision process. She was there, but she walked out.”

Real reason

Valdez said she had spoken with De los Santos because she wanted to know the real reason behind the decision to waive the rebuttal.

She said she even met with Ramos and Papageorge on Wednesday “to prepare them” for their recall to the stand.

“I wanted to give [the other prosecutors] the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t convinced that the reason was there was no need anymore [for a rebuttal],” she said.

Valdez said that when she got wind of the waiver of rebuttal, she was midway in negotiating with Ursua on how the panel could recall Nicole to the stand to assert her version of the purported rape, to which Smith had a starkly contrasting narration in court.

Nicole and her mother had earlier publicly accused De los Santos of proposing a settlement of the case, and of telling them that the families of the accused were aware of the proposal.

No settlement

De los Santos had denied the allegations. Smith had likewise said he would rather clear his name than settle with the complainant.

Nicole had also accused the state prosecutors of incompetence, and asked Gonzalez to replace them except Valdez.

With a report from Armand N. Nocum


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