Noticel obtains leaked audio from Ruiz Costas case

By John McPhaul

On Monday, the same day that the Puerto Rico Supreme Court declined to release any court audio recordings in the Andrea Ruiz Costas case, the island news outlet Noticel released one of the recordings, in which Ruiz Costas describes the harassment inflicted on her by her ex-partner Miguel Ocasio Santiago before he allegedly killed the 35-year-old woman and burned her body.

According to the audio from a videoconference session of March 26, Ruiz Costas’ ex-partner harassed and abused her emotionally, starting from before the relationship.

She said that despite the abuse, she agreed to go back to Ocasio Santiago until she discovered that he had stolen her cell phone and was in possession of intimate photos of her.

The recording did not contain an explicit request by Ruiz Costas for protection by the court, which took place on March 25, according to Noticel.

“For the proofs presented and believed, the court determines that there is not cause in this stage of the procedure. Ehh, that is all for my part,” said the presiding judge, Ingrid Alvarado Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, the island’s highest court ordered on Monday that the audio recordings from the specialized court not be released.

The ruling came in response to a request for reconsideration filed by the Puerto Rico Journalists Association (ASPPRO by its Spanish initials).

“We resolve that the request for information presented by the aforementioned association is not applicable and we provide no place for it,” reads the ruling. “Consequently, the hearing set by the Superior Court for tomorrow, Tuesday, is annulled. Once this matter has been resolved, the case is returned to that forum so that the procedures can continue in a manner compatible with what has been resolved here.”

Last Friday, ASPPRO filed a motion to request the release of recordings from the Caguas Superior Court. In summary, it requested the disclosure of the judicial proceedings held on March 25, 26 and 31, 2021 in the People vs. Miguel Ocasio Santiago case.

In its petition, ASPPRO argued that its request differs from what was decided against the Overseas Press Club, because now it is requested that the sensitive parts of the testimony of Ruiz Costas be removed from the recordings.

In addition, ASPPRO emphasized that the relatives of Ruiz Costas have publicly expressed themselves in favor of the disclosure of the audio.

“What is it intended to hide? The general rule is that judicial processes are public and -- unless there is a compelling interest of the State -- steps are taken to limit that access. In this case, as in all similar cases reflected in jurisprudence, the balance leans toward access and transparency,” stated Supreme Court Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez, the presiding judge, in her dissenting opinion. “There is no reason for a blank confidentiality rule to apply in this case. Therefore, the recordings have to be made public. The country and Andrea’s family demand it. As I indicated, they must listen to them first and let them say if they object to the disclosure of any fragment, since Andrea’s dignity and her memory does not end with her death. Then, it is the turn of the Country to listen to them. It is imperative to do so. There is nothing to hide.”

“Andrea’s voice was silenced. The press claim was ignored,” added Associate Justice Luis Estrella Martínez, also in dissent. “And today the demand of Andrea’s family was abruptly rejected, without being listened to, without being attended to, without giving anyone reasonable time.”

In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Ángel Colón Pérez stated that “[w]e are of the opinion that the recordings of the judicial hearings held in the Caguas Judicial Region on March 25, 26 and 31, 2021, to which we have previously referred, had to be delivered to Andrea’s relatives and to the journalists’ unions (Overseas Press Club and ASSPRO) that have requested them.”

“Unfortunately, they were not,” he wrote. “The cloak of absolute secrecy was imposed.”

Ruiz Costas took steps to protect herself before the Caguas Judicial Center, but a decision by a municipal judge, Ingrid Alvarado Rodríguez, did not grant her an arrest warrant against her ex-partner, Ocasio Santiago.

He allegedly ended up killing Ruiz Costas on April 29.

The high court, in a divided decision, rejected the disclosure requested by the journalists’ union on the grounds that it would provoke re-victimization.

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