January 11, 2022

“Witch hour” in Colombia | Bogotá city paper

Lindy Chamberlain, Amanda Knox, Laura Moreno. Three women from different eras and places but all accused of murder with the overwhelming weight of forensic science, tried by the media, crucified on the altar of public opinion, pilloried by investigators (at best ) incompetent and (at worst) devious, all the time eclipsing any male co-accused, and even after a final acquittal, continuing to be called “sluts”, “zorras” or “sluts” by an incredulous crowd unhappy with the outcome of it. ‘a story as old as Jezebel.

Witch hunts are alive and well today. Society loves nothing more than a killer to hate, and if they can’t find a real one, they make one up. And once he has one, he won’t let go.

Lindy Chamberlain lost her nine-week-old baby Azaria when the baby was snatched up by a dingo (a type of wild dog) in the family tent on a camping trip to Ayers Rock, Australia in 1980. Immediately afterwards The disappearance, the Aboriginal trackers had found signs of dingoes near the tent and trails, but this evidence was suppressed by prosecutors who instead pursued the theory that the Chamberlains had murdered and buried their baby girl.

This arose out of the coroner’s doubts that a dingo – a fairly small species of dog – could carry a baby. The hype that followed focused on the mother, rather than her husband Michael, and the fact that she kept her cool in public and never seemed to fill the archetype of the ‘grieving mother’. This fueled the idea that the Chamberlain family, who were Seventh-day Adventists, had ritually sacrificed their daughter. Newspapers claimed that the name “Azaria” meant “sacrifice on the wilderness” and that, yes, Lindy Chamberlain practiced witchcraft.

The case gripped Australia with the ‘noble native dog’ tale against ‘crooked humans’. No one believed this cold-hearted mother who couldn’t even mourn her own dead daughter. Everyone wore T-shirts saying The Dingo is innocent.

But those of us who lived and worked in the real Outback at the time had a different perspective: working at breeding stations, I would regularly hear the jap-yap-yap of dingoes slaughtering terrified calves at night. . If dingoes can tackle 20-pound calves, then a baby is just a snack. Some experts have said the same, but their voices, like the child’s voices, got lost in the wilderness.

So no one was too surprised when forensic experts found a stream of infant human blood in the well of the car before: the place where her mother allegedly slit her throat before Azaria was buried in the vast desert. Lindy, now Australia’s most hated woman, has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Step forward 25 years to the Internet age and the world is sensationalized by American Amanda ‘Foxy’ Knox on trial in Italy after her English roommate was found murdered. Here, foul play has never been questioned, but who did? A male suspect was quickly arrested and charged, but prosecutors were convinced Knox was to blame as well. Why? She was seen smiling just days after the incident, so she must be guilty. The media has embarked on a feeding frenzy of salacious tidbits of the privacy of this possible killer (while virtually ignoring the male suspects).

An image emerged of a sex break on steroids that went awry and led to a gruesome murder. But it is unlikely that this media-led character assassination, aided and abetted by ambitious prosecutors with a large dose of anti-Americanism, would have sunk Knox until, as the forensic evidence came forward. experts who linked Knox’s DNA to the victim’s clothing. Not only was Knox sentenced to 26 years in prison, but she was charged with “police libel” after she spoke of her mistreatment during questioning. Two other men were also convicted of the murder and sentenced to 24 and 16 years.

Meanwhile in Bogotá, a year after Knox’s imprisonment in Italy, a nighttime Halloween party between well-off students took a fatal turn: at 3 a.m. on October 31, 2010, Luis Colmenares was reported missing by his friends in suspicious circumstances closed to a drainage channel that runs under Virrey Park.

The 20-year-old student had been partying but got angry and separated from the group. What happened next is the subject of much speculation, but 16 hours later his lifeless body was found at the bottom of the culvert. The death was first explained as a tragic accident, even suicide, but a year later the victim’s mother dreamed that he had been murdered. The file was reopened, the body exhumed and a second autopsy performed.

The twists and turns of this alleged murder case, which has plagued Colombia for years, focused on Colmenares’ tangled relationship with his cohort of estrato-six friends, and above all, his closeness to Laura Moreno, whom he coveted as a girlfriend. Moreno, like Colmenares, was the descendant of a wealthy and connected family and had everything audiences expect in their femme fatale fantasy: youth, money, striking beauty, political connections, and a very calm exterior.

The charge was based on the improbability of a healthy young man falling or throwing himself into a shallow drainage channel and dying. He must have been pushed, argued, or more likely beaten and thrown in. The fact that firefighters called to search the culvert an hour after it went missing and found nothing, added weight to the theory that he had been killed elsewhere and his body thrown into the ditch to simulate a accident or suicide.

Forensic experts then found evidence on his exhumed body that showed beatings and multiple injuries that were not possible from a simple fall. The hunt was on for the culprit. Laura Moreno, as a close companion that night, the object of Luis’s desires, and with an angry ex-boyfriend, was in the spotlight. On her own, she was also the last person to see him alive, having chased him through the dark park to help him through his personal crisis triggered by a long night of drinking.

On this fertile ground of conjecture have walked some of Colombia’s best lawyers and most ruthless prosecutors, all ready to divulge any juicy details to a feverish media, and to an audience of tweets, You-tube galvanized by this elephant fight. . Forensic experts insisted the death was due to human assault. Someone had beaten Colmenares. Laura’s ex-boyfriend was arrested and then released. But as the last person to see him alive, even though she didn’t deliver the punches, Laura was presumed to be behind.

Like Lindy and Amanda before her, Laura put herself in the shoes of the prejudiced slayer by a misogynistic media determined to her downfall. And, like her predecessors, she was charged with the full weight of expert evidence against her.

She might at some point have found solace in the end results of those other witch hunts. In Italy in 2011, Amanda Knox’s salvation came from the same “technical” source that condemned her: human DNA found on clothing and a suspected weapon. A court examination found that police at the crime scene cross-contaminated multiple sources of DNA, rendering most of the samples inconclusive. Only one suspect – one of the men also convicted of the murder – was present in quantity, reinforcing his conviction. Knox was acquitted and released.

Lindy Chamberlain’s break came after four years in prison when her baby’s clothes were found next to a dingo lair near where the family had camped years before. Then, re-testing the “baby’s blood” in the car was found to be a rust-proofing compound, which is common to all Australian cars. Why, you might think, didn’t the original “experts” check out other cars before coming to the damning conclusion of “baby blood” in the Chamberlain’s car?

Lindy was released from prison in 1988, but it took another 24 years of public excoriations before Australian courts finally ruled out the dingo death and apologized to Chamberlain for the longstanding miscarriage of justice. Oh, and ‘Azaria’ means ‘help from God’.

Back in Colombia, it took six years before Laura Morena was absolved of her complicity in the murder of Luis Colmenares. Unlike Lindy and Amanda, Laura never went to jail, but instead faced constant public and media defamation and personal threats in which her young life was derailed. The court ruling came in February when Colmenares’ death was declared accidental by a female judge who went through the prosecution’s case with surgical details.

New analysis showed Colmenares’ injuries were in fact consistent with a fall into the culvert. Specifically, the “beating” evidence from the second autopsy was actually tissue damage from the first autopsy. Examination of the lungs and respiratory tract showed that he had died from drowning.

Additionally, precipitation and water flows from the culvert on the night of the student’s disappearance – data withheld by the prosecution – proved that the flow had the strength to carry an unconscious person into the tunnel. And it turns out that the first firefighters on the scene were never properly searched. The body was there the entire time, and a close examination of the timeline of known locations to the students, phone calls, and actions, did not show that they had not had time to cause or have witnessed a murder. Even less find the opportunity to cover it.

Under this scrutiny, the prosecution’s case seemed more fragile than ever, but did Colombia take this latest decision to heart? Can Laura Moreno get her life back? Not likely. Colmenares’ family has appealed to try to bring a murder case to court again. According to a recent media survey, more than 70% of the public still believe that Laura and her friend Jessy Quintero are involved in the student’s death, and that their wealth and political connections have given them freedom. “Justice is a joke” is the Twitter meme of the month.

The irony is that the justice system ultimately got it right, but along the way the public has lost some rust in the course of due process. The other irony is that Laura Moreno’s actions on that rainy night were driven by caring and compassion for her rebellious friend, but in that crazy time – the hours of witchcraft – her life came to an end and hers came to an end. defeat.

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