DOLORES, Argentina (AFP) — 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 kilometers (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 18-year-old Baez 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 disparagingly by some to describe Indigenous people or migrants from neighboring countries.
“We are strong,” said Baez’s mother Graciela Sosa as she arrived at court with her husband Silvino Baez. “Justice means life.”
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.
Thomsen, whom prosecutors accused of beng the group’s ringleader, fainted when his verdict was read out.
The Baez family lawyer Fernando Burlando said they would appeal the 15-year sentences and seek life imprisonment for all those involved.
“The most important thing is that the facts have been proven,” said Burlando.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum life imprisonment penalty, arguing that the murder was premeditated.
Defense lawyers argued that premeditation had not been proven, 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.