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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DCR official: Sentence modification in 2014 allowed convicted murderer to qualify for release

Celia Cosme, director of the Diversion Program in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

By The Star Staff

The official from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) that signed the document allowing the release of convicted murderer Hermes Ávila Vázquez said Tuesday that his release would not have become a reality if some 10 years ago a judge had not modified his prison sentence to eliminate the phrase “permanent separation from society” from the text.

The Courts Administration, in a statement, acknowledged that while it eliminated the phrase giving Ávila Vázquez a life sentence, the change did not modify the sentence.

However, Celia Cosme, director of the DCR Diversion Program, disputed that contention, noting that the change allowed Ávila Vázquez to qualify for a program that allowed the early release of inmates who suffered from certain health conditions.

Ávila Vázquez was charged with killing Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega in Manatí last month while he was in the free community following his release under the program.

Cosme, who signed off on the release, argued several times during a joint Senate hearing that if Judge Daniel López González had not modified Ávila Vázquez’s 112-year prison sentence for murdering a woman in Caguas, he would not have qualified for the diversion program in the first place.

Rubén Torres Dávila was the judge who had sentenced Ávila Vázquez to 112 years in prison.

However, in a written statement, the Courts Administration said that in 2014, López González merely modified an error in the sentence issued by the court in 2005.

“He did not alter in any way the term that the convict had to serve as part of this,” the Courts Administration said.

Yet the point that Cosme raised was that that phrase was used, together with other factors such as institutional adjustment and mobility limitation, to determine that Ávila Vázquez did not represent an element of danger to society if he went out into the streets.

“The modification responded to the fact that a text had been included [that was] incompatible with the agreement presented to the Court and the rule of law at that time under the 1974 Penal Code, in force at the time of the events,” reads the statement from the Courts Administration. “Accordingly, the Judgment should not have included the text permanent separation from society,”

Ávila Vázquez was the one who requested the amendment to the sentence.

According to a court motion, Ávila Vázquez had agreed to plead guilty to murder charges in exchange for the court not taking into account that he was a repeat offender in its sentencing. Torres Dávila, however, sentenced him to 112 years in jail and to life in prison.

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago said that without the change, Ávila Vázquez would not have been able to go out on the street. Cosme maintained that “historically,” since the administration of former secretary Erik Rolón, the release authority in her case had been delegated under Law 25-1992.

“That sentence was amended and the permanent separation from society was removed,” Cosme said. “If that sentence had been in place, the release would not have been authorized because from the sentence itself it was understood that he [Ávila Vázquez] was a risk to the community. However, that sentence was amended.”

“It left us without the basis that it was a security risk because that is what the court determined,” she added.

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