Spanish soldier convicted in Pamplona gang-rape case goes back to active duty

Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo will not be assigned to any post until the Supreme Court reviews his appeal

Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo, one of the members of La Manada.
Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo, one of the members of La Manada.Pepo Herrera (EFE)

Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo, one of five Spanish men sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing a young woman at the 2016 Running of the Bulls, has been readmitted into active duty after being suspended from service for six months, according to the Official Defense Gazette.

The soldier was part of a group of friends who called themselves La Manada (the wolf pack) in a WhatsApp chat group. He and the other four men were tried in a high-profile case that triggered demands to overhaul Spain’s criminal code, after the suspects were found guilty of sexual abuse but cleared of sexual assault, which includes rape, and would have entailed much higher prison terms.

Cabezuelo will be on active duty without actually working; during this time he will earn the basic salary

The Navarre court that tried the case said that the victim was maneuvered into the lobby of a residential building, where the men pulled down her underwear and had sex with her while recording it on their phones. She felt “stunned and unable to react,” “intensely overwhelmed and disturbed, which produced shock and made her adopt a passive and submissive attitude, meaning that she did what the accused asked her to do, keeping her eyes closed for most of the time.”

Despite this evidence, the three-judge panel found that there was no violence or intimidation, two necessary requirements for rape under Spanish law. This decision sparked numerous street protests throughout Spain, where women’s rights have taken on a higher public profile since the successful feminist strike of March 8, International Women’s Day, and the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

Cabezuelo has been out on bail since June 22 while the Supreme Court reviews his appeal. A Defense Ministry spokesman said that there are no plans to assign him to a new post for the time being. Defense regulations state that a suspension can last no more than six months.

Protests outside the Navarre court that cleared the men of rape.
Protests outside the Navarre court that cleared the men of rape.Claudio Alvarez

Minister Margarita Robles, the defense spokesman explained, will apply Article 111.3 of the Military Career Act that contemplates a situation when a member of the Armed Forces is released from preventive custody, thus ending the suspension of service. Even in such a case, the law stipulates that in certain cases where it is deemed relevant, the servicemember may be barred from requesting a new posting until a final decision is entered by the court.

In other words, Cabezuelo will be on active duty without actually working; during this time he will earn his basic salary (he had a 25% reduction during his suspension) without the bonuses that come with a specific posting. His lawyer, Agustín Martínez Becerra, has confirmed to EL PAÍS that Cabezuelo “has been informed verbally that there are no plans to assign him to any post.”

Before his arrest, Cabezuelo was serving in the 2nd Battallion of the Emergency Military Union at Morón, in Seville province.

Besides the Pamplona case, the soldier is being investigated for a similar case in Pozoblanco (Córdoba) along with three other members of La Manada. In late June, a judge issued a restraining order forbidding all four suspects from coming near their alleged victim, a 21-year-old woman who was abused two months before the Pamplona events took place. Investigators who looked at the suspects’ cellphones found footage of that earlier assault as well.

The rest of La Manada

Antonio Manuel Guerrero, a member of the Civil Guard, is not currently serving in any post and is earning the basic salary without bonuses, said sources at the law enforcement agency. Prosecutors want him to go back to prison after he attempted to get a passport on June 25, a move that is forbidden by his bail conditions; judges are currently considering the public prosecution’s petition.

As for the other members of the group, their lawyer Agustín Martínez Becerra said they have no plans to either look for a job or return to their old ones. Labor lawyers consulted by this newspaper said that unless the prison conviction becomes final, anyone with a fixed contract has the right to request their job back, and an employer who fired them would be incurring in a wrongful dismissal.

This is the case with Escudero, a hairdresser who had a fixed contract before being placed in preventive custody in July 2016. “For now he is not going back. The situation is complex, and we’re going to wait,” said the lawyer. Escudero, Guerrero and José Prenda are also being investigated in the Pozoblanco case.

English version by Susana Urra.

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