The mother of slain five-year-old Lucio Dupuy and her partner have been found guilty of killing the young child in November 2021.
A court in Santa Rosa, La Pampa Province, on Thursday determined that Magdalena Espósito Valenti, the mother of the murdered child, was guilty of aggravated homicide on three counts, qualified by her link as a mother and carer, cruelty and malice aforethought. She was found not guilty of sexual abuse.
Her partner, Abigail Páez, was convicted of aggravated homicide on two counts, qualified by intent and malice aforethought as well as the crime of seriously outrageous sexual abuse due to the circumstances in which it was committed (carnal access via the anus with an object); aggravated by her role as the guardian of a minor under 18 years of age and taking advantage of the pre-existing situation of cohabitation to commit an ongoing offence.
Neither of the accused were in court to hear the verdict read out. Their defence lawyers had petitioned the judges to excuse their clients from attending.
During 18 days of hearings, prosecutors Verónica Ferrero, Máximo Paulucci and Mónica Rivero had asked for both women to be convicted of aggravated homicide and sexual abuse against the toddler in their care.
The court, headed by Judges Alejandra Ongaro, Andrés Olié and Daniel Sáez Zamora, did not pronounce a sentence. They are expected to do so within the next 15 days, though only life imprisonment is under consideration.
"The expectation is for a life sentence," La Pampa's attorney general, Máximo Paulucci, said after the verdict.
More than 100 witnesses testified in the trial, with neighbours and relatives offering accounts of incidents that served as warnings of wrongdoing. Lucio’s drawings were even offered up as proof of the chronic abuse he suffered.
According to prosecutors, Espósito Valenti and Páez killed Lucio at some point between 5.30pm and 7.40pm on November 26, 2021 in La Pampa. It was the culmination of months of abuse, they said.
In its grounds for the verdict, the court maintained: “According to various pieces of evidence which will be exposed afterwards, it is possible to affirm with the certainty which this court sentence demands that Lucio Dupuy was the object of physical, psychological and sexual violence for several months before his death.”
The judges rejected Lucio’s mother’s version of events that at the time of his death she was not present in the dwelling, something only partially true since for the judges “between 5.30pm and 7.40pm, except for the 13 minutes in which Magdalena Espósito Valenti went out, both the accused and Lucio Dupuy were alone in the apartment where they lived.”
According to the prosecutors it was during those hours that both the accused beat the boy repeatedly and left him to die. Afterwards only Páez returned to the flat where she sounded the alarm as to the homicide and went out to ask for help. The boy was transferred to Hospital Evita although already dead.
Despite the alibi of Espósito Valenti regarding not being at home, the court considered it proved that “the heavy blows which occasioned his death had already been given when she was in the flat moments beforehand with Páez.” The judges also said when pronouncing the sentence that hers was a “mendacious” statement. She justified the mark of her sneaker in Lucio’s shoulder blade by saying that she had just touched him with her foot to test his reactions when he looked in a bad way, whereupon the judges pointed out the “intensity” of blow to the child “causing ruptures to his internal organs.”
They also indicated that she knew that Lucio had been previously beaten up. “At the time of the injuries subsequently causing the death of Lucio Dupuy (approximately between 6pm and 7pm), both the accused were alone with the child in the apartment,” concluded the judges.
Regarding the aggravating factors of cruelty and malice aforethought, the judges remarked: “The defenceless state of the victim as a five-year-old child weighing 18 kilos faced the extreme aggression of two adults on November 26, 2021. But furthermore, it was not an isolated act of aggression but a pattern of chronic abuse. Lucio Dupuy suffered physical, psychological and sexual violence for several months before his death, permitting one to think that he had learned to be defenceless, thus placing him in a clear situation of extreme vulnerability.”
The crime, along with the details of mistreatment and physical violence aired during the trial, has horrified Argentina and triggered a national controversy over the custody rights of separated parents.
The provincial family law judge who repeatedly awarded custody rights in favour of the mother was denounced in court last week for inadequate supervision of the child’s social environment.
The La Pampa Prosecutor’s Office for Administrative Investigations has opened probes into the doctors, teachers and police officers who could have sounded the alert as to the child’s situation when under the custody of the two women.
The case has revived in Congress a bill already dubbed the "Ley Lucio," which, if approved, will oblige the officials of all three branches and levels of government to be trained in the rights of children and adolescents. Leaders, lawmakers and officials across the political spectrum on Thursday hailed the verdict.
Referring to gender hatred, an aggravating factor which was proposed by the plaintiff but not accepted by the court when pronouncing the sentence, José María Aguerrido, a lawyer for the family, explained: "I have to know the results of the sentence and why gender hatred was knocked back but we’re going to analyse it.”
He continued: “It’s not that an appeal would wear us out, this issue has worn us out but we’re in this battle and there must be certainty here. Violence is not one-way and the sentence demonstrates that – two women convicted for the aggravated homicide of a small male aged five and there are things here which have no rational explanation but only hatred."
Speaking prior to the sentence, Lucio’s grandfather Ramón Dupuy called for the court to sentence the accused to the maximum jail term possible.
"Let it be what is fair and what they should be sentenced to for having caused such destruction to a family and an entire town by killing Lucito in the way they did," said Dupuy. "Justice is life imprisonment."
The grandfather said that the accused should have been obliged to be in the courtroom.
"They should be there to feel the sentence in their face,” he said.