Argentine prosecutor seeks life for eight rugby players over murder

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) — Prosecutors in Argentina on Wednesday, Jan. 25, asked for life imprisonment for eight rugby players on trial over the killing of a teenager outside a nightclub three years ago, a crime that shocked the nation.

In this handout picture released by Telam, Argentine lawyer Hugo Tomei, defense attorney for the eight rugby players accused of the crime of Fernando Baez Sosa, arrives at the Oral Court No. 1 in Dolores, Buenos Aires province. (AFP)

The defendants, aged between 21 and 23, have been in pre-trial detention since the attack.

"I ask that they be sentenced to life in prison as co-authors of doubly aggravated homicide" as it was not committed in self-defense and was "premeditated," prosecutor Juan Manuel Davila said at court in Dolores, a city 220 kilometers (136 miles) south of Buenos Aires.

Following an argument between two groups of people inside a nightclub in the popular seaside resort of Villa Gesell on January 18, 2020, the eight defendants allegedly attacked Fernando Baez, an 18-year-old law student, after they had been ejected by door staff.

The players from a small provincial club in Zarate, north of Buenos Aires, allegedly attacked Baez from behind and then beat him to death on the ground.

Images of the attack were caught on surveillance cameras, and by the telephone of one of the defendants.

"They formed a circle around (Baez). They all struck him and when they didn't, they stopped anyone coming to help him," said Davila.

The prosecutor added that witnesses had heard the players shout racist insults at the victim as they beat him.

Baez family lawyer Fernando Burlando agreed with the prosecution's request, saying it was "enough to sentence the defendants to life" behind bars.

The assailants preyed on Baez's "defenselessness, with no risk to the pack," according to the prosecution.

"They killed for killing's sake, it is truly inexplicable. They didn't care who," Burlando said. "Their plan was to take (Baez) as a trophy. The synchronization of actions allowed them to build an impenetrable wall" around their victim.

The attack struck a chord in Argentina. It sparked protests in several cities, and prompted the South American country's rugby authorities to institute behavioral courses for almost 4,000 players of the game.

In a nation marked by wide social inequality, rugby is traditionally played and watched by the wealthy. Baez was the son of a bricklayer and a caregiver, both Paraguayan immigrants.

A verdict in the trial is expected on January 31.