CA affirms life sentence on Venturina killers

December 6, 2010 11:33 am 

By Priam F. Nepomuceno

MANILA, Dec. 5 – The Court of Appeals (CA), in a 72-page decision, has affirmed the life imprisonment sentence for five members of Scintilla Juris Fraternity of the University of the Philippines (UP) who were earlier found guilty of attacking and killing Sigma Rho Fraternity member and UP student Dennis Venturina 16 years ago.

The CA Special Division of Five, in a 72-page ruling penned by Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., effectively junked the petition of Danilo Feliciano, Jr., Julius Victor Medalla, Christopher Soliva, Warren Zingapan and Robert Michael Beltaran Alvir for the reversal of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) decision dated Feb. 29, 2002.

Associate Justices Amelita Tolentino, Mariflor Punzalan-Castillo, Jose Reyes concurred with the ruling while Associate Justice Stephen Cruz dissented.

The CA ruled that the Quezon City RTC did not made any error in giving credence to the testimonies of five prosecution witnesses as to the identities of Venturina’s attackers.

“As to the defense of alibi and denial, it is almost trite to say that the same are weak and would not prevail over positive identification. However trite it is, the same still applies too this case. The alibis of each one did not absolutely negate the possibility that they could have been in the locus criminis (scene of the crime) at the time of the commission of the crime,” it said.

The Quezon City RTC also found the five members of the Scintilla Juris Fraternity guilty of slight physical injuries charges filed by victims Leonardo Lachica and Cesar Mangrobang; attempted murder filed by victims Mervin Natalicio and Arnel Fortes; and murder filed by the heirs of Venturina.

But the CA reduced the monetary award granted by the lower court to the family of Venturina from P5.41 million to P314,642 only, representing civil indemnity and actual, temperate, moral and exemplary damages.

It also pointed that contrary to the trial court’s findings, the aggravating circumstance of treachery was not established by the complainants.

The CA added that although the attack against the victims was unexpected, it gave the victims ample chance to elude or defend themselves, thus dismissing the treachery allegations.

It also directed the appellants to pay each of the victims, Leonardo Lachica, Cesar Mangrobang Jr., and Cristobal Gaston, the amount of P35,000 as moral and exemplary damages for slight physical injuries they sustained during the attack and P35,000 each for complainants Mervin Natalicio and Arnel Fortes for attempted murder.

Case records showed that the victims were having their lunch at the Beach House Canteen behind the UP main library on Dec. 8, 1994 when Venturina warned his fellow Sigma Rho Fraternity members that a group of masked men, armed with metal pipes, baseball pipes, and knives heading towards them, seconds later, the victim's group then came under fierce attack from the suspects.

Venturina, who suffered fatal injuries, was immediately brought together with Natalicio and Fortes, to the UP Infirmary for medical attention.

Venturina was later transferred to East Avenue Medical Center, then to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he subsequently died as a result of the injuries he sustained from the assault.

The other victims, Gaston, Mangrobang and Lachica sustained injuries that did not require hospitalization.

In their defense, the members of the Scintilla Juris Fraternity claimed that there was no way for the witnesses to identify them if the attackers were hooded.

But the CA dismissed this adding that there was no reason to doubt the testimonies of the victims and other witnesses that some of the attackers were not wearing masks, which resulted to their positive identification.

It noted that the defense “makes a mountain out of a mole hill on the perceived inconsistencies in their testimonies” in order to cast doubt on the credibility of the witnesses, adding that “it is a well-established rule that minor inconsistencies do not affect the credibility of a witness.” (PNA) RMA/PFN

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