Former police chief Luis Patti gets fourth life sentence for dictatorship-era crimes

He was found guilty of accessory to murder for the killing of a Peronist congressman and the attempted murder of his secretary during the military dictatorship

The San Martín Federal Court #2 sentenced former Escobar police chief Luis Abelardo Patti to life imprisonment on Monday — his fourth life sentence for crimes committed during the last civil-military dictatorship. Patti was accused of being an accessory in the murder of former Peronist congressman Diego Muñiz Barreto and the attempted murder of his secretary, Juan José Fernández.

A member of the Group of the Eight — Peronist congressmen who cut ties with General Juan Domingo Perón in 1974 — Muñiz Barreto was kidnapped alongside Fernández on February 16, 1977. They were both taken to a police station in Escobar, in Buenos Aires province, then transferred to the clandestine center of detention that operated in the Army base Campo de Mayo.

After two weeks in captivity, on March 6 they were taken to Entre Ríos province and thrown into the Paraná River inside a car, in an attempt to fake a road accident, according to the Human Rights Secretariat. Muñiz Barreto died at the scene, but Fernández was able to get out of the vehicle and escape.

Patti had already been convicted in 2011 for the kidnapping and torture of Muñiz Barreto and Fernández in Escobar, but had been acquitted of murder charged before the case went to trial. The Supreme Court reversed that decision earlier this year and new court proceedings began in August.

On Monday, the court heard Patti’s closing statement in which he claimed he hadn’t been at all involved in the killing.

“I have never had anything to do with the event that is being investigated,” said the former police chief, currently under house arrest for previous convictions in other trials for crimes against humanity. He also expressed words of empathy with the victims. 

“The power of the state is omnipotent”, Patti said, adding that “those who suffered from it had no way to defend themselves” and that he was “very sorry for everything that has happened.”

“Regarding Mr. Muñiz Barreto’s daughter, she has my greatest respect. I hope that one day I can welcome her in my house together with my family and answer any questions she may have,” Patti said towards the end of his brief final statement.

During the 1976-1983 dictatorship, Patti was Chief of the Escobar Police Station in the Buenos Aires province, where he commanded illegal task forces of the Tigre Regional Unit.

Once democracy was restored, he served in various police stations and turned to politics after his retirement from the force. 

He served as mayor of the Escobar district between 1995 and 2003 and was later elected to Congress in 2005, but he was unable to take office after a large majority of its members challenged his appointment due to his actions during the dictatorship. 

In 2008, a federal court requested his removal from office, and he was subsequently arrested for crimes against humanity.

Ever since then, he has been convicted in three trials for serious human rights violations carried out by state terrorism, getting life imprisonment sentences in all of them.

—with information by Télam

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