Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz
On August 12, 2005, 19-year-old law student Claudina Isabel Velásquez, left her home in Guatemala City to go to the university. That was the last time her family saw her alive. After having been informed that their daughter could be in grave danger, Claudina’s parents sought help from local police stations. There efforts were unsuccessful. The next day, her body was found abandoned on a city street. She had been shot in the head; bruises and traces of semen were found on her body.
Instead of being subjected to a rigorous forensic examination, all but one piece of clothing she was wearing the night of her murder were returned to the family. In-depth testing of key parts of the scene of the crime was never done. Moreover, authorities failed to look into important evidence, and reportedly did not promptly follow up on key witnesses or possible leads. According to reports, a number of potential witnesses were only interviewed for the first time this past June. To date, her case also remains unresolved.
The investigation of Claudina’s murder was negatively influenced by the prejudices and discriminatory attitudes of the authorities handling the investigation. Claudina Isabel was categorized as a “nobody” because she was wearing sandals and a belly button ring.
In October 2006, the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) presented the findings of its investigation into the procedures undertaken by the authorities in the case of the murder of Claudina Velásquez. The Investigation Into Reported Violations of Due Process in the Case of Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz cites numerous flaws and inconsistencies from the initial stages of the investigation and concludes that “the State failed in its obligation to respect and guarantee the right to life, security and due process.”
The Ombudsman’s report highlights numerous flaws in the procedures carried out by the National Civilian Police (PNC), Public Prosecutor’s Office and judicial authorities, including:
- Failure to promptly open an investigation: Police officials told Claudina’s parents that they had to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report, despite their having been informed on the night of her murder that their daughter could be in grave danger. Delays in opening the investigation greatly reduced the chances of finding Claudina alive or identifying the perpetrators.
- Failure to preserve the crime scene: Official reports indicate that the scene of the crime was tampered with prior to the arrival of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and personnel responsible for processing the crime scene.
- Failure to collect evidence from the crime scene: Although the authorities present at the scene of the crime had determined that Claudina’s body showed signs of rape, her clothes, with the exception of the sweater she was wearing the night of the murder, were handed back to the family and never processed for evidence. Her fingerprints and residue under the fingernails were collected at the funeral home during her wake.
- Failure to perform adequate forensic tests and analysis: Forensic personnel failed to accurately analyze bullet ballistics, test for internal trauma, or fully identify and record all external injuries. In addition, the forensic report recorded the time of death as seven to eleven hours after the autopsy. Despite the fact that her parents had positively identified the body, the forensic report listed her as a “Jane Doe,” a gross example of negligence that was left uncorrected for almost two months.
- Failure to interview witnesses: The authorities did not proactively and promptly seek information from family members, friends, and others who might have been the last to see Claudina. No effort was made to quickly identify and interview the individuals who were with Claudina the night of her murder to ascertain if they had fired a gun or to search their vehicle(s) for valuable evidence. Claudina’s parents were interviewed a month after her murder, and many potential witnesses were only first interviewed this past June.
- Frequent rotation of investigators. Claudina’s case has been transferred several times to different prosecutors and investigators, causing unnecessary delays in the investigation. Recognizing the shortcomings in the investigation of the case, the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Life took over the investigation in November 2005.
- Re-victimization and harassment of victim’s family: According to a PNC investigator in the Criminal Investigation Unit, the scene of the crime was wrongfully processed because Claudina was initially classified “as a victim whose murder should not be investigated.” Claudina was categorized as a “nobody” by the authorities because she was wearing sandals and a belly button ring. Moreover, authorities have at times failed to provide Claudina’s parents with information about progress in the investigations and have brushed aside their suggestions about potential leads.