Judge in ETA trial overheard calling suspects "bastards"

Defense could use Otegi precedent to annul trial for 2001 murder of councilor José Javier Múgica

The trial of four ETA members over the murder of Navarrese People's Union councilor José Javier Múgica in 2001 got off to an unfortunate start from the prosecution's viewpoint when the president of the tribunal, Ángela Murillo, thinking her microphone was off, said "and on top of everything these bastards laugh."

Before Murillo had been caught out by the open microphone, she had also forgotten to read the defendants' rights - to answer all or part of the questions put to them, or not to answer any, and to not to give testimony against themselves. The trial is the first against leading ETA members since the terrorist organization's declaration of a "definitive" end to violence on October 20.

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The former leader of ETA's military wing, Francisco Javier García Gaztelu, alias "Txapote," Juan Carlos Besance, Oscar Zelarain and Andoni Otegi Eraso stand accused of forming the Argala cell and planting the car bomb that killed Múgica outside his home. The trial is the first against ETA since the declaration of a definitive end to violence made by the terrorist organization on October 20.

Txapote, when asked to stand and give testimony, refused in curt Basque, leading Murillo to ask him to be quiet. When Zelarain's turn came, he refused to answer questions and instead accused the authorities of torturing Besance, who said that the Civil Guard had put a bag over his head and attacked him during his transfer to Madrid.

Earlier, Múgica's widow, Adoración Zubeldia, testified against the ETA suspects. "The car was in flames and my husband was inside burning," she responded to the prosecution.

Murillo's indiscretion could be used by the defense to annul the trial for suspected partiality. When the same judge was sitting on the trial of Arnaldo Otegi, the former leader of Batasuna, ETA's political wing, for participating in an act glorifying terrorism, she was heard to say: "I knew he wouldn't answer my questions." The Supreme Court subsequently quashed a two-year jail term for Otegi and ordered a retrial, after which he was absolved.

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