In the early hours of October 23, 2001, several men broke into the home of 26-year old Kenia Rosario Viera in Humacao, Puerto Rico. The men beat, slashed, raped, and sodomized her, poured gasoline on her wounds, and set her on fire before leaving. When they had gone, Rosario, gagged and handcuffed, managed to turn on the shower with her mouth and put out the fire on her body, then ran naked to a neighbor’s house for help. After two months in the hospital, she died.
On October 28, Robert Anel Diaz Morales, an accounting student at the University of Turabo, bought a cell phone on the street from a man who claimed that the phone had belonged to his sister. On November 9, Diaz received a call from the police, who told them that in fact, the phone had belonged to Rosario.
Diaz was brought in for questioning. Police at first said that they knew he was not involved in the crime, and asked him to identify the man who had sold him the phone. A police investigator showed Diaz a picture of a suspect, Irving Carrasquillo Olivera, but Diaz said that he did not clearly remember the face of the man who sold him the phone. The police officer questioning him then threatened to charge him with the crime if he couldn’t make an identification. Still, Diaz said he could not positively identify the man in the photo.
Police then arrested José Luis Delgado, a heroin addict, who admitted that he was one of the men who had raped and assaulted Rosario. He told police that the crime had been orchestrated by Ismael Roman Garcia, the victim’s ex-boyfriend, who was angry that she had ended their three-month relationship. Roman, a former prison guard, had paid several heroin addicts to attack Rosario. During questioning, Delgado’s story changed several times. He first said that three men were involved, and later said four. He mentioned the involvement of a heroin addict who went by the nickname “Quenepo.” At police prompting, Delgado eventually identified Diaz as “Quenepo.” He said that Diaz had broken into the house and beaten Rosario, but had not raped her.
On August 30, 2002, Diaz was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and kidnapping. He denied any involvement in the crime or that he was ever known as “Quenepo.”
In June 2003, Roman – who had been arrested the same day as Diaz -- was convicted of first-degree murder, torture, rape, sodomy, robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to 250 years in prison.
In August 2003, Irving Carrasquillo Olivera, who had fled to Florida, was arrested there and brought back to Puerto Rico.
Diaz went on trial in 2004. Jose Luis Delgado was the principal witness for the prosecution. He testified that Garcia had recruited him and several other heroin addicts, including Diaz or “Quenepo,” to attack Rosario. Delgado seemed confused on the stand and contradicted himself at times.
Under defense cross-examination, the police officer who had questioned Delgado admitted that Delgado had told her that he also knew another man named Quenepo, a friend of his who was also heroin addict. The police officer testified that she had not investigated to try to learn the identity of “Quenepo” because she did not think it was necessary.
Prior to trial, the defense had sought to introduce testimony from a doctor who had examined Diaz in jail and found no signs that he was a heroin user. The judge barred the evidence on the grounds that it would “confuse the jury.”
Irving Carrasquillo testified for the defense, admitting his involvement in the crime and saying that Diaz was not involved.
On March 12, 2004, Diaz was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to 172 years in prison.
After the conviction, Diaz’s lawyers tracked down Javier Francisco Sánchez González, also known as “Quenepo.” He wrote a statement saying that he was the only person known by this nickname in town of Gurabo, where both he and Diaz lived. Based on this new evidence, the attorneys filed a motion for a new trial, but were denied on September 26, 2005. A subsequent motion was denied in 2007.
Attorneys for Diaz again appealed the decision, arguing that the conviction should be overturned due to inconsistencies in Delgado’s testimony, the evidence that a different person was involved in the crime, and the wrongful exclusion of evidence that Diaz was not a heroin addict. On May 9, 2012 the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico overturned Diaz’s conviction.
“It is our duty is to pardon,” Judge Fiol Matta said in his ruling. Diaz was released from prison that day.
-- Alexandra Gross