Sole defendant tried over death of Spanish toddler who fell down borehole escapes jail sentence

The family of two-year-old Julen Roselló, who died in Málaga last January, has reached a deal with David Serrano, the owner of the land where the accident happened

Defendant David Serrano glances at Julen’s parents during the court hearing today.
Defendant David Serrano glances at Julen’s parents during the court hearing today. D. G. (EFE )

The sole defendant in the court investigation into the so-called “Julen case,” a man named David Serrano, will not be going to prison for his role in the death of the Spanish toddler. In a court hearing today that lasted just 30 minutes, Serrano, the owner of the land where Julen Roselló fell into a borehole last January, sparking a massive rescue effort, was given a suspended jail sentence of one year and ordered to pay €180,000 in compensation to the parents of the two year old, Victoria García and José Roselló.

Serrano admitted his guilt for the tragic accident that cost the life of Julen

The two sides in the case had reached an agreement before the hearing began on Tuesday in a Málaga courthouse, in southern Spain. Serrano has been ordered to pay €663,982.45 to the Andalusian regional government to cover the cost of the attempted rescue. Serrano also admitted his guilt for the tragic accident that cost the life of Julen.

The two-year-old fell into the 25-centimeter-wide borehole on January 13, 2019 at around 2pm. The hole was 110 meters deep. Once the alarm was raised, a massive rescue operation swung into action, lasting 13 days and involving more than 300 people – ranging from Civil Guard officers to specialized engineers. The operation concluded when a team of miners found the lifeless body of the child around 70 meters down the hole in the early hours of January 26. An autopsy revealed he had died during the fall.

After the court proceedings concluded on Tuesday, Julen’s father, José, was clearly hurt but relieved. “I’ll never be satisfied,” he told reporters. Tragically, the couple had lost another child, Oliver, several years earlier from a sudden heart attack when he was aged three.

I want to ask the parents for forgiveness for the damage done

Defendant David Serrano

The court ruling found that the offense of negligent manslaughter had been proved, but both the public prosecutor and the private prosecution – brought by the child’s parents – agreed to limit the sentence to just a year due to two extenuating circumstances. The first is that Serrano has already paid the amount of €25,000 of the total €180,000 to Julen’s parents – the rest will be paid in monthly quotas of €50 each. The second is that he has admitted to the facts of the case.

“I want to ask the parents for forgiveness for the damage done,” Serrano said. “At no time did I want anything to happen to the child.” The two sides have also agreed not to file an appeal against the sentence.

Under Spanish law, if a defendant has no prior convictions, prison sentences under two years are usually – as in this case – suspended. However, the judge did impose several conditions on that suspension, including a two-year period with no new offenses committed. Serrano will also have to inform the court of any change of residence and employment status, and register with the court every six months.

“I asked for forgiveness from the heart,” said Serrano after the hearing. “I’ve had a great weight lifted from me, although I will always carry it around,” he added.

Serrano’s lawyers had been trying to reach a deal in recent months, but an agreement was only forthcoming in the last phase before the actual trial. The accord was the result of a three-hour conversation between Roselló and Serrano last Thursday.

Serrano’s lawyers admitted that it is highly unlikely that their client will be able to pay the €850,000 in compensation due to the child’s parents and the Andalusian regional government. “He couldn’t pay it over several lifetimes,” stated his lawyer, Antonio Flores, who added that the €25,000 that Serrano had already paid out was a donation from a businessman who preferred to remain anonymous, but who “wanted to avoid the justice system committing an injustice.”

No employment

Last fall, Serrano declared bankruptcy, claiming that he had no fixed income nor property, and in the last three years had worked barely 69 days. The judge in charge of the investigative phase of the case seized Serrano’s land in Totalán where the accident happened, but the value covered just a small part of the compensation owed.

The public and private prosecutions had been calling for Serrano to serve three to three-and-a-half years in jail on the charge of negligent manslaughter. This was based on the accusations that he had not warned Julen’s parents about the borehole on his property, and because the hole – drilled in search of water – did not have the proper permissions and was not properly covered up.

In response, Serrano’s defense lawyers first tried to blame Antonio Sánchez, the man who had drilled the hole, for not having respected safety measures. Later, his attorneys blamed the rescue operation for the death of the child, claiming that he had died due to impacts from a pick sent down the borehole in a bid to clear the earth that had accumulated on top of the child’s head. The youngster’s autopsy definitively disproved this theory. Serrano’s defense team also accused Julen’s parents of not having paid attention to their child when on his land.

English version by Simon Hunter.


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