Judicial error saw child murder suspect walk free

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Judge thought paedophile was serving two-year sentence

31 March 2008

MADRID - An administrative glitch involving a judge who had previously been disciplined for negligence allowed a man who was sentenced to prison in 2002 for child abuse to walk free. This same man is now accused of murdering a five-year-old girl in El Torrejón, Huelva, on 13 January.

The judge, Rafael Tirado Márquez, said he "honestly" thought Santiago Del Valle, 52, was serving his two-year sentence for abusing his own daughter, but explained that the civil servant in charge of implementing the rulings was on a five-month leave that created a huge delay in his Seville court.

However, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the top legal oversight body, fined the same magistrate 50,000 pesetas (EUR 300) in 1995 for negligence in another child abuse case where he delayed a forensic examination of a two-year-old child who was allegedly abused by her father.

A CGPJ inspection team has opened an investigation into this new case, while the deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, on Friday described it as "a very serious, terrible and tragic legal mistake."

Mari Luz Cortés was last seen alive as she walked past Del Valle's house on her way to buy candy at a street kiosk. Del Valle, who lived with his sister, has said the child died accidentally while in his company. He and his sister were arrested and taken to a Huelva prison, where they spent their first night in a special security zone on Thursday.

Del Valle had another two-year prison sentence handed down in 2004 for attempting to abuse another minor in Seville, but the judge suspended it on condition that he not reoffend within three years. In 2006, however, he was caught harassing a 13-year-old girl in Gijón. Despite this record, Del Valle never went to jail before Thursday.

[Copyright EL Pais 2008]

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