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Supreme Court justice’s apparent suicide rocks Guatemala

Some believe magistrate was depressed over sex abuse charges filed against his son

File photo of Justice César Barrientos.
File photo of Justice César Barrientos.NUESTRO DIARIO

Justice César Barrientos Pellecer of Guatemala’s Supreme Court committed suicide early Sunday morning after he told his bodyguard and driver to leave him alone for a brief moment in his car, authorities said.

His fellow bench member, Héctor Maldonado, confirmed the death but prosecutors on Monday had yet to release an official report of the incident but have not ruled out foul play.

According to preliminary accounts, Barrientos was traveling between San Francisco Zapotitlán and Mazatenango in the backseat of his all-terrain vehicle. He had spent the weekend at his rural home and was on his way to Mazatenango, the capital of Suchitepéquez province in the southern part of the country, where Carnival celebrations were being held.

At some point along the way, he asked his driver and bodyguard to get out of the vehicle because he “needed to answer an urgent call on his cellphone.” When he was alone, he shot himself in the forehead. Barrientos was taken to a local hospital where he died later.

Two theories why Barrientos killed himself immediately emerged after the reported suicide. According to some close to his family, the Supreme Court justice had been under a lot of pressure by unknown persons to help cover up a corruption scheme, something he was unwilling to do.

The judge may been under  pressure to cover up a corruption scheme

Other witnesses said Barrientos, who was an honors graduate of Spain’s Universidad Jaime I, was depressed over criminal charges filed against his son, also a lawyer, for allegedly paying a sex-trafficking network to supply him with juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17.

The son, César Barrientos Aguilar, was arrested along with others last July and faces at least eight years in prison if he is convicted.

“I am also a judicial officer and I believe and I respect the judiciary’s independence,” the father told Prensa Latina at the time of his son’s arrest. “The decision is in the hands of justice.”

There have also been allegations that people close to the judge would use his name and influence to exert pressure on other magistrates to rule a certain way in many cases, witnesses said. Some months ago, Justice Barrientos tried to commit suicide through an overdose.

“Painfully, Justice Barrientos will be remembered for all of these incidents instead of his experience and work in favor of justice,” said Carmen Aída Ibarra, director of the independent organization Pro Justice, in an interview with EL PAÍS.

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