Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, October 06, 2006

Subic rape trial ends; verdict set on Nov. 27

By Tarra Quismundo

THE TRIAL OF the historic rape case filed by a Filipino woman against four US Marines came to a close yesterday, four months after it began, with the judge promising to deliver a verdict at least a month before the case marks its first trial anniversary.

Neither the complainant, “Nicole,” nor the four accused were present when Judge Benjamin Pozon of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 139 presided over a 20-minute hearing to set a tentative date for the verdict.

“The case is considered submitted for resolution ... Unless there will be problems, let’s set the promulgation of the decision on Nov. 27, tentatively,” Pozon said.

Nov. 27 is exactly a month away from Dec. 27, which marks a year since Nicole’s complaint against the US servicemen on liberty at the Subic Bay Freeport was elevated to the Olongapo Regional Trial Court -- the first court to handle the case.

As stipulated in the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, Philippine courts must render a decision on cases against American soldiers within a year after court proceedings begin, or lose the authority to compel the accused to appear in court.

Panels’ summations

Pozon also directed the defense and prosecution panels to submit their respective memoranda “within 30 days of actual receipt of this [court] order.”

“This will be hoping that the court can finish the decision by that time. If it cannot, the parties will be informed,” he said.

A memorandum is a summation of a panel’s arguments for its case, including a rehash of the evidence it presented during the trial.

The prosecution had presented 23 witnesses in 11 weeks to prove that Lance Corporal Daniel Smith had raped Nicole inside a moving van before midnight on Nov. 1, 2005, as his co-accused -- Lance Corporals Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier -- cheered him on.

The prosecution contended that Nicole, 22 years old at the time, was too drunk to have consented to sex, and that she was later “dumped like a pig” on a pier near the Marines’ ship, the USS Essex.

The defense had presented six witnesses, including the four accused, who all testified that Smith and Nicole had consensual sex in the back seat of the van, and that she got off the vehicle on her own.

20 people in court

All four accused said Nicole was not drunk on the night of the purported crime, and that she was fully aware of what was happening.

Only 20 people -- reporters, the court staff, Silkwood’s lawyers (Jose Justiniano and Carlito Zaragoza) and Carpentier’s lawyer (Francisco Rodrigo) -- were present yesterday at the usually packed courtroom.

The hearing had adjourned when Smith’s lawyer (Benjamin Formoso) arrived.

The public prosecutors -- whom Nicole had wanted replaced toward the end of the trial for purported incompetence -- were not around.

Minutes before the hearing started, the court received the prosecutors’ faxed manifestation officially informing the court that they would no longer present rebuttal witnesses, as they had planned.

The court had scheduled hearings yesterday and today for the prosecution panel to recall to the witness stand agents Tony Ramos and Guy Papageorge of the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Pozon canceled both hearings in open court yesterday.

Misquote, discrepancies

The state prosecutors had earlier told the court that they would recall Ramos and Papageorge to allow the agents to rebut the testimonies of Smith and Carpentier.

Smith had said he was “misquoted” in an NCIS report on the alleged rape, and Carpentier had pointed out “minor discrepancies” in Papageorge’s report on his own statement.

Without saying why, the prosecutors said they had “decided to forego with the presentation of rebuttal evidence.”

But Senior State Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos had said in an earlier interview that the prosecution had already shown in court that the agents had “no reason to distort their report because their functions were purely fact-finding.”


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