Monday, March 26, 2012

Malaysian court hears closing arguments in death penalty trial of three Mexicans

Verdict will be delivered May 17

Kuala Lumpur -- Three Mexican men facing the death penalty in a Malyasian criminal court will learn their fate in May. They will either be acquitted or sentenced to hang.

The accused are brothers Jose Regino Gonzalez Villarreal, 36, Simon Gonzalez Villarreal, 33, and Luis Alfonso Gonzalez Villarreal, 47, all from the western state of Sinaloa on Mexico's Pacific coast. Together with two Malaysians, they were arrested and charged in March 2008 with manufacturing and possessing methamphetamine and precursor chemicals (used to make the meth), and with narcotics trafficking. They have been in custody for four years. The men were detained only weeks after arriving in this southeast Asian nation. They worked in a Mexican brick factory before moving to Asia.

Prosecutors say the Mexicans and the two Asians were arrested with a large quantity of drugs and cash. If they are convicted, the only punishment under Malaysia's draconian drug laws is execution by hanging. Two other Mexicans detained in connection with the case were released for lack of evidence and deported months ago.

Defense attorneys have challenged forensic test results of the chemicals which were seized when the men were detained, and have alleged that about a third of the materials disappeared while in police custody, preventing the court's analysis of all the evidence. They have also complained about the man who has presided over the trial, known as Malaysia's "hanging judge" for the more than 100 death sentences he has imposed. Those arguments were rejected in an appeal to Malaysia's Federal Court last December.

At the men's trial in February prosecutors presented evidence that the defendants were in possession of 29 kilograms of methamphetamine when they were arrested in a shipyard warehouse, together with drug manufacturing equipment. The Mexicans testified that they had been hired to clean trash from the area where the contraband was discovered and had no knowledge of the drugs, but forensic testing indicated traces of the chemicals on their clothing and bodies. About a third of the meth disappeared after the arrest, causing defense attorneys to demand that the entire case be dismissed. That's one of the issues the judge will have to decide. Defense attorneys, who argued today that there was no evidence their clients had participated in the manufacture of the meth, said after the court session that they're "cautiously optimistic."

Malaysian drug trafficking laws are among the most severe in the world, and even the petty possession of narcotics can be punished by execution or a long prison sentence. In recent years courts have shown no mercy for foreign citizens charged with such offenses. Several have been hanged.

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