Eight individuals – all aged between 21 and 23 – are accused of killing teenager Fernando Báez Sosa on January 18, 2020 in Villa Gesell.
According to prosecutors, Máximo Thomsen (23), Luciano Pertossi (21), Ciro Pertossi (22), Lucas Pertossi (23), Enzo Comelli (22), Matías Benicelli (23), Ayrton Viollaz (23), Blas Cinalli (23) beat the 18-year-old to death outside a nightclub in the coastal town on the Buenos Aires Atlantic coast.
The members of the group who allegedly attacked Báez Sosa are former players with the Naútico Arsenal Zárate rugby club, a fact that earned them the nickname ‘los rugbiers’ in the local press.
A host of witnesses have already testified in the trial, which began earlier this month, with evidence presented in court complicating the situation for the defendants.
During the third week of the trial, two of the group – Máximo Thomsen and Ciro Pertossi – broke the so-called "pact of silence" that has stopped the accused from testifying. The duo decided to address the court this week after a brief statement delivered by Luciano Pertossi the previous week.
The accused face charges of murder in the first degree with the added circumstance of premeditation between two or more people, along with the physical attacks on Báez Sosa’s friends who tried to come to his rescue.
The crime sparked public outrage across Argentina, with mobilisations calling for justice. It also put the focus on certain elements of rugby culture in the country, pushing the authorities to do more to tackle violent behaviour among its players.
In witness testimony to the court, Máximo Thomsen was mentioned as the direct aggressor of the attack. The young man is accused of delivering fatal kicks that led to the victim’s death and forensic experts confirmed that his shoe had blood stains compatible with Fernando's DNA.
Further complicating the outlook for Thomsen, the outline of the tread marks of the soles of his shoes were left on the face and neck of the murdered youngster – a fact expert witnesses attributed to the level of violence exerted in the attack.
During the trial, after his mother had addressed the court, Thomsen broke down and, in tears, asked to speak. He admitted to being at the scene, did not deny having been there and even identified that the shoes presented by prosecutors were his.
Thomsen says that when he exited the Le Brique nightclub, he saw that one of his friends was in a potentially violent situation and that he stepped in to intervene. He alleges that he was punched and then began to kick. “One kick, maybe two, I've hit, but never in my life with the intention of killing someone," he declared.
Luciano Pertossi has also been identified by some witnesses as one of the aggressors and prosecutors have presented CCTV footage they say confirms he was present at the scene and a participant in the brutal attack.
Luciano, the brother of co-accused Ciro Pertossi and a cousin of Lucas Pertossi, was the first of the rugby players to break his silence in court. He denied that he was present in one of the videos shown of the attack on the victim. However, experts from the Federal Police later showed another video to the court – one that has not previously appeared in the media – contradicting that claim.
Earlier this month, the 21-year-old’s father appeared in court to defend his sons, declaring that “they are not murderers." Addressing the judges, he said "I can't believe what they are being accused of."
Twenty-two-year-old Ciro Pertossi is another who has been identified as playing a key role in the killing, with a friend of the victim alleging that the accused hit Báez Sosa “on the back and side" during the attack. A WhatsApp message sent by Pertossi to the group after the attack – that read “guys, don’t tell anyone about this” – indicates he was also concerned about what could happen to them.
After his brother Luciano and Thomsen, Pertossi is the third defendant who has chosen to speak in court. As prosecutors showed video footage of the attack, the accused said that he had "stopped" himself delivering another blow when he realised that Fernando was seriously injured. "I want to clarify that I didn't kick him, that when I realised he was on the floor I stopped," he told those present in the courtroom.
Regarding the Whatsapp message, he said that he was referring to the fact that "he didn't want his parents to find out that they had had a fight."
Two witnesses have put Lucas Pertossi at the scene of the attack, though they also say he attempted to stop the beating.
Pablo Gastón Zapata, someone who knew the group from Zárate, picked out Pertossi when presenting as a witness providing context about alleged previous violent behaviour by the group. Alleging that the accused had stolen his motorbike, he says Pertossi previously attacked him, leaving him with injuries.
Enzo Comelli has also been identified as a direct participant in the attack, with friends of Báez Sosa alleging that he was the one to deliver the first blows to the victim, knocking him to the ground.
The 22-year-old’s mother, María Alejandra Guillén, gave testimony to the court last week, explaining that her life had become “a constant agony,” with her family now unable to go out without receiving abuse from others.
Matías Benicelli, another identified as a direct aggressor in the attack, allegedly kicked the victim in the head, according to the head of security at the Le Brique nightclub. Báez Sosa’s friends also picked him out as a participant in the attack. The 23-year-old’s outlook is complicated by the fact that DNA testing revealed traces of the victim’s blood on his clothes (one of seven positive identifications presented by prosecutors in court).
Benicelli’s father, Héctor Eduardo, also testified at the trial, giving voice to the “pain and anguish" the defendant’s family has suffered since the attack. His son “did not go out with the intention of killing" anyone, argued the relative.
Ayrton Viollaz is said to have been part of the group, though he is not believed to have been a “direct aggressor" in the attack. However, several witnesses say that Viollaz was "haranguing" the rugby players and encouraging the attack and that he himself assaulted one of Fernando's friends to prevent them from coming to the victim’s aid.
"He is seen close to everything that happened and is next to Máximo Thomsen at the moment he kicks him in the head when [Báez Sosa] was already motionless on the floor," a report of the Prosecutor's Office reads.
On the other hand, Viollaz does not appear in the chat groups, nor the audio messages that were presented as evidence after prosecutors consulted the rugby players' mobile phones.
One of the elder members of the group, Blas Cinalli is the only one of the defendants who was not immediately accused of participating in the crime. However, a detailed report by forensic experts reveals that traces of DNA compatible with his genetic profile were found under a fingernail of Báez Sosa’s left hand.
The 23-year-old has also been identified as the author of a series of WhatsApp messages that refer to the attack in front of Le Brique and Fernando's death. His outlook has also been complicated by statements delivered by two of his friends and another individual, Alejo Milanesi, who was part of the friendship group but has not been accused of wrongdoing.
"He told me that they had a fight and that a boy had left without vital signs," said Santino Massagli, who was in the WhatsApp group in the early hours of the morning on January 18, 2020, but left it soon after.