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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor defends correctional department’s medical services manager amid fallout from released murderer’s killing of woman

Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Thursday threw his support behind Physician Correctional, the prison health care services management company contracted by the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) that has been blamed for the release of a convict who later killed a woman.

Pierluisi pointed out that the company has been awarded and recognized for its work.

“Well, I have to say that in that area they have received awards, prizes, the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation and that entity in particular, for their performance,” he said.

Is the fact that they are donors to your campaign being taken into consideration? a reporter asked the governor.

“That has absolutely nothing to do with it,” the governor replied.

“They donated to your campaign just as recently as February,” a journalist stressed.

“That has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Pierluisi said again.

Another reporter asked the governor if he is in a position to cancel the contract if necessary, even if Physician Correctional is a contributor to his campaign.

“One thing has nothing to do with it,” Pierluisi reiterated. “In other words, political donations are a [type of] freedom of expression; people can donate to their preferred candidates.”

“But it can’t be a letter of protection either,” a journalist said.

“It can’t be, nor will it be because it won’t,” the governor said. “In reality, that decision was made a long time ago, to extend that contract. It has absolutely nothing to do with donations, and in any event, the secretary makes that decision.”

The governor acknowledged that the case was not an easy one because a woman had died.

“Well, exactly,” Pierluisi said.

Separately on Thursday, Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández confirmed his agency will investigate the circumstances that allowed convicted murderer Hermes Ávila Vázquez, who is accused of killing Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega in Manatí last Sunday, to be released when in 2005 he was tried and convicted for killing another woman.

However, the agency will conduct the probe responsibly and without haste, the Justice chief said.

“Since the circumstances surrounding the release of Hermes Ávila Vázquez emerged, we announced that the Department of Justice will investigate whether any crime was committed in the execution of that process, since the people deserve to know the truth and whoever has failed must assume the consequences,” Emanuelli Hernández said.

“Investigations are developed strategically based on the discovery of the truth and the best interest of citizens,” he added. “Everyone’s priority at this time should be saving lives and preventing this kind of situation from happening again, not trying to make headlines. At the Department of Justice, we are going to act with the responsibility that characterizes us, without giving in to pressure or agendas of any kind.”

The matter is a grave one, Emanuelli Hernández said, and the primary objective of an investigation at this stage should be for the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to promptly identify the failures that led to the release of a convict who in one year ended the life of another victim, and to take immediate actions to prevent a situation like this from recurring.

“At the appropriate time, we will intervene without needing to affect the administrative process,” he said. “To do this, we are informing [DCR] Secretary Ana Escobar that we will require all the material collected and any other documentation that we believe the DCR, and any other agency or company, can produce to carry out a comprehensive, rigorous and transparent investigation.”

Ávila Vázquez was serving a 122-year sentence because the Justice Department prosecuted and convicted him on several occasions during the years 1991, 2004 and 2005.

“Likewise, we filed new charges against him and are prepared to do justice to Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega and her family,” Emanuelli Hernández said.

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