The Cachopo King: Heidi Paz’s family awaits the release of her body four years after her death | International


The dark, silver-trimmed suitcase in which the remains of Heidi Paz were discovered in Madrid on August 13, 2018, was present throughout the trial which ended with her former partner being sentenced to 15 years for having her killed. There he was, in a corner of the courtroom, as a silent witness against a defendant who kept talking: César Román, a former restaurateur known by his nickname “King Cachopo”, according to a type of meat dish from northern Spain. . Four years later, the remains contained in this suitcase are still in a cold room awaiting a court order that will allow Heidi’s family to finally put their trauma behind them. This is an exceptional case, even in the case of violent death.

Heidi, who was 25 when she was killed, was born in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, one of the most violent cities in the world. This is where his family awaits his remains to give him a dignified burial and give him back the dignity that his killer tried to snatch from him: Román was also sentenced for desecration of a corpse. Heidi’s arms, legs and head were never found and Román removed her breast implants in an attempt to make identification more difficult. Part of his family still lives in Honduras, including his children. “The repatriation has been agreed with the embassy for some time, but we lack judicial authorization to be able to remove the body, which will probably be cremated,” explains the family’s lawyer, Alexis Socías.

The handing over of the body of a victim of a violent crime to a family is not thoroughly regulated and therefore depends on factors in the investigation and trial, as well as the sensitivity of judges. In Heidi’s case, Román’s defense lawyers built their strategy by casting doubt on the identification of the body. They questioned everything from DNA tests to the color of the skin on the torso. “In the photographs of Heidi you can see that she was black and those remains are white,” defense attorney Ana Isabel Peña said of a body that had decomposed in the blazing sun. August and was full of caustic soda. A genetic test confirmed the relationship between the remains and Heidi’s mother.

King Cachopo also maintained during his appeal that his “fundamental rights had been violated”. This may explain why the judge on whom the decision depends has chosen to exercise extreme caution until Román has exhausted all avenues of appeal: there remains the Spanish Supreme Court, a route which, according to his lawyer, will be prosecuted despite the force with which all previous hearings have established his guilt. “For legal purposes, ‘the body]is just one more piece of evidence, but for the family it is a loved one, and as such it is sometimes difficult to find a balance between guaranteeing guarantees for the parties and respecting the right to mourning and the beliefs of the family”, says judge José Antonio Vázquez Taín, who has been criticized for being on the other side of a similar situation when he ordered the cremation of the remains of Asunta Basterra, a Spanish child whose parents were found guilty of her death in 2015.

“It is important to know how this process works and to keep in mind that second autopsies have more to do with Hollywood movies than reality. to analyze the samples taken from the body during the initial autopsy With current techniques, you can even tell if the assailant exerted pressure on a part of the body based on the state in which the molecules were We know everything,” says Vázquez Taín.

The judge also points out that some judges prefer to err on the side of caution and wait in case a new forensic method emerges over time that may provide more definitive answers. This happened in the case of Déborah Fernández-Cervera, who was found dead in northwestern Spain in 2002 and whose body was exhumed last year so that new tests that did not exist not 20 years ago can be performed. Thanks to these techniques, it was possible to extract the DNA under his fingernails.

A new call

The Paz family’s lawyer filed a new request last week to release Heidi’s body after Madrid’s Superior Regional Court (TSJM) upheld Román’s conviction after considering his appeal. “Over a year ago, we received a call from the Institute of Forensic Anatomy asking what we were doing,” says Socías. Sources at the TSJM agree that the decision to release a body is made on a case-by-case basis and there is no general rule. “In this case, we must take into account the fact that the author never confessed to the crime and that the defense always cast doubt on the identification of the remains.” The same sources also note that the judge who presided over the case and found Román guilty, Araceli Perdices, has yet to receive the family’s latest document requesting the release of Heidi’s body. “As soon as this is received, it will be transferred to the parties and, if no one objects, a decision will be made,” the TSJM sources specify.

“It is true that four years is exceptional, it is probably the body that has spent the most time in the establishments, but sometimes in high-profile cases the magistrates prefer to be cautious and wait before authorizing a burial. ,” say sources at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Madrid, which houses the Forensic Institute of Anatomy. An example is the Ruth and José Bretón case. The tiny remains of the siblings, who had six and two years old when they were killed and cremated in southern Spain by their father José Bretón, were also kept until all avenues of appeal were exhausted and the sentence passed, despite the children’s mother’s pleas to let her bury them.”In my experience and from what the experts tell me, many families don’t start crying until this moment happens; it’s a necessary step. Until this time, many people believe even that this person could come back”, explains Vázquez Taín.

On occasion, the return of mortal remains has posed a real problem. In a March 2020 decision, the Supreme Court convicted a magistrate in Valencia, eastern Spain, noting that speeding up procedures for the burial of a corpse is “a priority”. The reason for the decision was the discovery of a body in a car in Mislata, Valencia, in January 2017. A month later, police closed the case after ruling out any violent cause and confirming a suicide. But it was not until November that the magistrate returned the body to the family.

Supreme Court justices criticized the magistrate’s delay, while she in turn cited her courtroom workload as justification. “From the moment a corpse ceases to be necessary for criminal proceedings, there is an inexcusable judicial duty to authorize burial or cremation. It is something which, precisely because corpses cannot remain unburied indefinitely, takes precedence over virtually any other action to be taken by the judge in question,” the ruling said.

Meanwhile, Heidi’s body remains in storage at the Forensic Institute of Anatomy in Madrid, and her family is still waiting for her to return to her homeland in a way they never expected.


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