Five Argentine rugby players sentenced to life for shocking murder
NEWS: 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 alleged 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, 220 kilometres (140 miles) south of Buenos Aires, turned the spotlight on classism and racism in the country and even sparked protests in several cities.
The eight defendants, now aged between 21 and 23, had been charged with “doubly aggravated murder” after pummelling 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 isolated 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 called Baez – whose parents, a bricklayer and a caregiver, are Paraguayan immigrants – a “shitty black.”
In a country where the majority of the population is descended from white Europeans, mostly from Spain, Italy or Germany, the term “black” is used by some to describe Indigenous people or migrants from neighbouring countries widely viewed as inferior.
Rugby is a minority sport in Argentina, traditionally played and watched by a wealthy elite.
The trial of the eight accused opened in Dolores last month for aggravated, premeditated murder.
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 handed 15-year sentences.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum life imprisonment penalty, arguing that the murder was premeditated.
Defense lawyers argued 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 ever hitting him.