By The Star Staff
Governor Pedro Pierluisi urged the Puerto Rico Court Administration Thursday to probe the court’s role in failing to prevent a tragic murder-suicide in Yauco that directly impacted one of his La Fortaleza aides.
On Wednesday night, 33-year-old Wilfredo Hiram Santiago Figueroa killed Linnette Morales Vázquez, 30, her brother Luis Miguel Morales Vázquez, 28, and Lizzette Vázquez Vélez, 51, who was the mother of the two victims. Santiago Figueroa then took his life at his brother’s residence in the Sierra Alta neighborhood of Yauco.
“Gender violence is an evil that we all have to combat. Today, another tragedy has touched me closely, as it has affected the family of a co-worker who has been the victim of an atrocious crime in which he lost his sister, his brother, and his mother. My prayers and full support are with the Assistant Fortaleza Chief of Staff, Ángel Morales, and his family,” the governor said on his social network X (formerly Twitter).
The governor blamed the courts for failing to enforce Act 54, the Domestic Violence Act.
“From the information I have, this tragedy could have been avoided if Act 54 had been enforced to its full extent. I call on the Court Administration to investigate and determine if there was a failure of justice here and take action on the matter,” the governor said.
The triple murder and suicide were reported at around 9:32 p.m. on January 24 on highway PR-372, kilometer 3.8 of the Caimito neighborhood, in Yauco.
The Homicide Division of the Ponce Criminal Investigation Corps investigates.
In a reaction, the Court Administration issued the tract record of the case.
On September 7, 2023, Judge Ángel Candelario issued an ex parte protective order under Act. 54 against Santiago Figueroa. A final protective order was issued against him on September 26, 2023, effective until March 26, 2024.
On January 10, 2024, the Public Ministry filed a complaint against Santiago Figueroa for violating the protection order. The Rule 6 hearing was presided by Judge Ginny M. Vélez Carreras, who found cause for arrest and set bail at $5,000 to which prosecutors did not object. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for January 24, 2024.
In the preliminary hearing, the defense lawyer requested time to evaluate documents related to the case. The prosecutor agreed to the request and also requested amendments to the complaint so that the facts conform to the crime for which probable cause was found.
A new hearing was set for February 28, 2024. At the preliminary hearing, prosecutors did not seek changes to the bail nor the imposition of electronic supervision. At 4:55 pm on January 24, the day of the tragic event, prosecutors sought the imposition of an electronic bracelet.
Supreme Court assumes part of responsibility for family tragedy
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, Maite Oronoz Rodríguez, admitted on Thursday the need to evaluate the processes in cases of gender violence in the face of the murders of members of a family in Yauco.
“Following the terrible events in Yauco, I instructed to begin a thorough investigation into the judicial processes in the cases before the Court of First Instance of Ponce. In the same way, the Executive Branch must carry out an evaluation of the efforts and appearances in the Courts of the Prosecutors assigned to the case, the Program of Pretrail Services (PSAJ) of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation and the Puerto Rico Police. The Judiciary will formulate the recommendations that it considers prudent for the public security component,” Oronoz Rodríguez said in written statements.
“Gender violence is not only a legal problem, it is a social problem that has to be addressed from all fronts, not just the legal one. The Judiciary must and wants to be part of the solution to this social evil and assumes its responsibility in achieving it,” she added.
Meanwhile, the administrator of the Puerto Rico Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA), Carmen Bonet Vázquez, expressed her regret over the death of Luis Miguel Morales Vázquez, one of the victims of the massacre that occurred in the Caimito neighborhood of Yauco. .
“At the Mental Health and Addiction Services Administration we are mourning the death of our colleague Luis Miguel Morales Vázquez, 26 years old, who worked for the past three years as a facilitator of prevention services in the Network Program of the Auxiliary Administration for Prevention and Promotion of Mental Health, of the Mayagüez regional office. As a facilitator, on topics including alcohol, drugs, vaping and emotional health, Luis Miguel demonstrated an extraordinary passion and commitment to the well-being and mental health of communities, and in particular young people.