One of Argentina's most notorious dictatorship-era criminals, Miguel Etchecolatz, has been sentenced to life in prison once again, this time for his role in more than 100 crimes against humanity, including kidnapping, torture, homicide and the rape of a detainee.
It is the fourth life term to be handed down by judges to the 89-year-old former Buenos Aires Province police chief for crimes committed during Argentina's last military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Etchecolatz was "director of police investigations" in the region between March, 1976, and the end of 1977, overseeing at least 21 clandestine prisons in the country's most populous province.
This latest case, known colloquially as 'Puente 12,' lasted over a year and saw survivors of the clandestine centres testify before their abusers in court. It dealt with crimes committed against 125 victims in total, 64 of which remain missing with their bodies never found, including 11 pregnant women.
Federal Oral Court No. 6 found Etchecolatz guilty of three cases of aggravated homicide, one case of rape, six cases of abuse and more than 100 cases of illegitimate deprivation of liberty and torture, said the Centre for Judicial Information.
As the head of the court, judge Fernando Canero, read the sentences, members of the public began to cheer in celebration. Etchecolatz, dressed in his blue jacket and holding his cane, smiled and kissed a rosary on his chest.
Federico Antonio Minicucci, who was accused of homicide "with treachery" and the rape of three separate detainees, was also handed life in jail.
Alberto Faustino Bulacio, Nildo Jesús Delgado and Daniel Francisco Mancuso were sentenced to eight years in prison, seven-and-a-half years and six years, respectively, for crimes of illegal deprivation of liberty and torture.
José Félix Madrid, Guillermo Horacio Ornstein, Carlos Alberto Tarantino and Ángel Salerno were acquitted of the charges against them.
Etchecolatz is currently jailed at Ezeiza prison and likely to serve this term behind bars, though his imprisonment – for the three previous life sentences, now four – has not always run concurrently.
This latest sentence was handed down by the same court that on December 27 last year had granted him the house arrest due to his advanced age.
In Argentina, prisoners over 70 years of age can enjoy house arrest, but its application depends on the crimes committed and judges' criteria.
However, multiple demonstrations and outrage from human rights organisations pushed for the benefit to be revoked and Etchecolatz was returned to prison on March 16, by order of the Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation.
During the 1976-1986 dictatorship, Etchecolatz responded to General Ramón Camps, head of Buenos Aires provincial police, who militarised the force and turned it into one of the country's slickest death machines.
This was particularly the case in the student city of La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province, where thousands of university-aged militants, guerrillas and activists were tortured and disappeared.
Like other human rights abusers, Etchecolatz was tried and jailed in 1985. However a series of presidential decrees let most free, until 2006 when the trials reopened.
A symbol of state terror, Etchecolatz had long been a house-hold name when he returned to the spotlight in 2006 during a human-rights trial holding up a note that read “Jorge Julio López, kidnap”. In a cruel irony, López, a former dictatorship-era detainee and key witness, is believed to have been kidnapped and disappeared in September 2006, the day he was due to give his final testimony.
Speaking during his latest trial, when given the chance to address the court, Etchecolatz distanced himself from allegations he was responsible for López's disappearance and said he was the victim of "ruthless judicial persecution."
"Throughout these trials, I was not given any guarantees, ladies and gentlemen. It is very serious that here in Argentina the law and the Judiciary are manipulated," said the condemned prisoner, criticising the fact that permission to serve out his term under house arrest had been revoked.
"We are prisoners forgotten by justice. We are condemned to death, to a slow death in confinement, such is the Argentine justice, a twisted and twisted death sentence, a plan of extermination," he said, without a hint of irony.