Five Argentine rugby players sentenced to life for murder

Five Argentine rugby players sentenced to life for murder

A court in Argentina on Monday sentenced five amateur rugby players from the same team to life imprisonment for beating a teenager to death in a crime with racist undertones.

Three more defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison for “secondary participation” in the murder of Fernando Baez Sosa, a law student from a Paraguayan immigrant family, outside a disco three years ago.

The high-profile, four-week trial at the court in Dolores, 220km south of Buenos Aires, turned the spotlight on class distinction and racism in the country, and sparked protests in several cities.

The eight defendants, now aged between 21 and 23, had been charged with “doubly aggravated murder” after beating Baez, then 18, to death in the popular seaside resort of Villa Gesell on January 18, 2020.

After a fight broke out in a nightclub, those involved were evicted but their quarrel continued in the street.

Baez became separated from his friends and was surrounded by eight attackers, all teammates at a small, provincial rugby club, who beat him so severely that he died of his injuries.

According to witnesses, his attackers insulted Baez — whose parents, a bricklayer and a caregiver, are Paraguayan immigrants — for being “black”.

In a country where most of the population is descended from white Europeans, mostly from Spain, Italy or Germany, the term “black” is a pejorative used by some to describe Indigenous people or migrants from neighbouring countries.

Rugby is a minority sport in Argentina, traditionally played and watched by a wealthy elite.

The trial of the eight accused of aggravated, premeditated murder opened in Dolores last month.

Maximo Thomsen, Matias Benicelli, Enzo Comelli and brothers Ciro and Luciano Pertossi were sentenced to life in prison.

Ayrton Viollaz, Blas Cinalli, and Lucas Pertossi, the brothers’ cousin, were given 15-year sentences.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum life imprisonment penalty, saying the murder was premeditated.

Defence lawyers said that premeditation had not been proved in the crime, and asked the court to impose a lighter sentence for a lesser crime.

The defendants, in pre-trial detention since 2020, expressed remorse during the hearings and insisted they had no intention of killing Baez. Some even denied hitting him.

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