Toxicology tests on the body of Asunta Basterra Porto, the 12-year-old girl found dead on a forest trail outside of Santiago on September 22, have revealed a lethal quantity of the sedative lorazepam in her blood. Asunta’s parents are the principal suspects in the murder investigation and Judge José Antonio Vázquez Taín on Friday said that “everything points to Asunta’s mother being with the child when she died.”
“The different versions of events make clear her participation in what occurred,” said Taín. “At the time that the child suffered a forced ingestion of pharmaceuticals, the suspect was with her.” The judge’s findings were released after lawyers acting for Asunta’s adoptive mother, Rosario Porto, had been informed that she would remain in preventive custody. Taín noted that in view of the results of the investigation to date, “it can be deduced” that Porto was involved in the child’s death.
Both Porto and her husband, Alfonso Basterra, were asked to participate in a reconstruction on Friday but on the advice of their lawyers refused. Porto and Basterra, who are separated, both want the judicial secrecy order imposed on the case to be lifted. Porto has also attempted to have her custody order lifted, while it is expected that Basterra’s lawyers will launch a similar bid.
In statements to her lawyers, Porto has maintained her innocence. “I’m devastated because they kill my daughter and now this [the accusation of infanticide], which is horrible.” In another visit, Porto said through sobs: “As well as taking me for a murderer they think I’m stupid as well,” in reference to pieces of evidence left for police to discover such as rope that is being tested, camera footage and the lorazepam itself, which Porto had a prescription for.
As well as taking me for a murderer they think I’m stupid as well”
Doctors working on the case said that Asunta recorded 0.68 milligrams per liter of blood of the benzodiazepine, a powerful anti-anxiety and insomnia treatment. A “normal” level, they added, would be 0.04mg/l; 17 times less. “A level of 0.68 milligrams implies the necessary toxicity to result in death, especially in children aged under 12,” said forensic psychiatrist José Cabrera Forneiro. Asunta was 10 days short of her 13th birthday when she died.
“In forensic terms, the amount of lorazepam signifies three irrefutable things,” said Cabrera. “First is that the equivalent of several boxes of the medication would have had to be consumed; secondly, is that whoever forced Asunta to ingest it did so with the intention of killing her; and third, that the time between ingesting the drug and death would have been very short.”
A witness interviewed by police this week related that Asunta once said she was given “white powders” at home. Teachers at the music school she attended told investigators that in July she arrived for class in a very confused state and barely able to speak. “My mother wants to kill me. She’s a psychopath,” Asunta told her instructors, adding that Porto had given her pills, but these failed to report the incident.
Porto’s lawyer, José Luis Gutiérrez Aranguren, said that his client is “crushed” and that she believes she is already “condemned” for the alleged crime. “If she leaves jail, people will say the lawyer did a job,” he added.
Supporters of Porto have spoken of the precedent set by the case of Dolores Vázquez, who was forced into exile after being acquitted of the 1999 killing of Rocio Wanninkhof having served several years. The case generated huge media interest and a public outcry. “They should lift the secrecy order,” said Gutiérrez. “If [the investigation] is made public for those who want to lynch her, why is it not for her?”