Former deputy Buenos Aires provincial police chief Miguel Etchecolatz, one of the most emblematic human rights violators of Argentina's brutal 1976-1983 dictatorship, received his ninth life sentence for crimes against humanity on Friday, a judicial source confirmed.
The Federal Oral Court 1 of La Plata sentenced him to life imprisonment, along with former fellow policeman Julio César Garachico, for the kidnapping, torture and murder of seven people at the clandestine detention centre known as ‘Pozo de Arana,’ which operated in La Plata, 60 kilometres south of the Buenos Airesl.
"The facts were crimes against humanity and must be qualified as such," said the head of the court, Andrés Basso, as he read out the sentence.
Etchecolatz, 93, is currently jailed in Ezeiza prison and did not attend the reading of the verdict because he was hospitalised due to a fever.
Garachico, 81, who is being held in house arrest in Mar del Plata (400 kilometres south of Buenos Aires) on other charges, was also absent.
The court granted Garachico the benefit of house arrest, which generated anger from those present in the courtroom, who shouted "common, perpetual and effective prison" and had to be evicted in order to conclude the reading of the ruling.
Among the cases heard in the trial was the kidnapping and torture of Jorge Julio López, whose testimony in 2006 as a survivor was key to the conviction of Etchecolatz.
"He is a serial killer, he had no compassion," López had said of Etchecolatz in court when he also identified Garachico, both as his torturers, and gave details of the torments he and other prisoners were subjected to and the murders he witnessed.
Three months after that statement López disappeared when he left his home in La Plata on his way to the courthouse where the trial was taking place. The case caused political commotion and shock in Argentina. All investigations into his disappearance were fruitless.
Etchecolatz and Garachico were also convicted for the kidnapping, torture and murder of Francisco López Muntaner, a high school student kidnapped at the age of 16 in 1976 along with nine other schoolmates for demanding the student ticket in an episode known as "La noche de los lápices" (“The night of the pencils”).
In addition to the sentences, the court ordered the creation of a “Site of Memory” on the site of the Arana clandestine prison, as well as excavations in search of human remains on a nearby farm where the army operates.
Some 30,000 people disappeared during the dictatorship, according to human rights organisations.