In Spain, a jury decides that a young man’s suicide was actually homicide

The accused, an older man, harassed the 17-year-old on Whatsapp and warned he would ruin his entire family’s lives. The teen ended up jumping to his death in 2016

Vicente Paradis
Vicente Paradís, 62, at his trial in Castellón, Spain on July 21.GABRIEL UTIEL BLANCO
María Fabra

Iván’s parents and friends described him as a normal 17-year-old. He went to high school, played soccer, took piano lessons and hung out with his buddies. He wanted to become a member of the riot police.

One day, he logged onto a dating site and started talking to a man almost 40 years older than him. Eventually, the man began to send Iván threatening messages on WhatsApp: “I’m going to teach you not to waste your time. I’m coming for you. I’m going to ruin your parents because of you.” The harassment lasted for seven hours.

Iván answered some of the hundreds of messages that were sent. He began with apologies: “I will not do it again. Please, don’t do it. I’ll do whatever you want.” Finally, he began warning the man that he would take his own life. But the messages did not stop.

“If you commit suicide, you will destroy you parents,” was one of the responses.

Moments later, at 6.40 pm on December 1, 2016, Iván threw himself off his building’s rooftop. In his pockets, he carried his wallet, keys and cellphone. It took eight months for the contents of his mobile phone to be examined and for the harassment he had faced to be discovered. For Iván’s parents, the search led to feelings of “relief and anger.” Relief because they had a why – anger because there was a who.

The Court of Castellón, in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia has found Vicente Paradís, a 62-year-old man, guilty of the crime of homicide, despite the fact that he never met the minor. He has a record for an act of sexual assault committed in 2004, in the nearby province of Alicante.

During the seven-day trial, Paradís, a lean man with a distant gaze and squinting eyes, was unperturbed. Before the television cameras, he even smiled. Forensic experts have defined him as a “simple” person with a low intellectual level, but without any condition that prevents him from being aware of his own actions. The lawyers’ words caused, on occasion, tears among Iván’s family members; Paradís responded with slight turns of the head and sidelong glances. At the start of each day of the trial, he had no problem passing by Iván’s parents, displaying an attitude of open contempt.

On Wednesday, nine jurors – six men and three women – deliberated behind closed doors. They ultimately found Paradís guilty, using a doctrine called objective imputation. Spain’s Supreme Court explains the theory as follows: “The essence of the theory… lies in the idea that the injurious result must be imputed to the accused as long as said result is the consequence or realization of a legally disapproved danger created by him, because if the victim had not found himself in the situation created by the perpetrator, the offense would not have occurred.”

The doctrine of objective imputation is not a widely-known theory. Although it can be summed up as a result stemming from an action, other legal aspects are involved. In the case of a homicide, the grey area is wider, since the definition in the Penal Code is clearly stated as “one who kills another.”

To make things clearer for a group of jurors inexperienced in legal matters, the prosecution opted to include a subsidiary accusation in addition to the charge of homicide. If the jury had been unable to find Paradís guilty of homicide, they would have had the option to declare him as being the author of a manslaughter, in which “serious recklessness causes the death of another.”

The defense denied that Paradís had authored all of the harassing messages. But the prosecution had no doubts: “This situation of permanent harassment and emotional blackmail caused the minor to commit suicide by throwing himself into the inner courtyard of his apartment building.” Even after the suicide, the defendant continued to send similar messages and photos. The taunting text messages were interspersed with voice notes from Iván asking for forgiveness.

“The defendant created the risk, he was warned [by the victim] of the consequence that his attitude could have and he accepted the possibility of the result of death,” the prosecutor explained on Tuesday. He emphasized that the defendant, at no time, lowered the intensity of the threats and that he exerted a “vital influence” on Iván’s death. “The minor is not among us because of the defendant,” he summarized.

The defense, meanwhile, had asked the jury to assess two possibilities: the first, that Paradís was not the one who sent the messages, although they came from his phone – according to his testimony, he lent his mobile to someone for more than a day. The second possibility: that the phone was tampered with. It was also alleged that the defendant was not accompanied by his lawyer when he was questioned by police, although the law does not require this.

The second lawyer pointed out: “I’m not saying that it was the police that modified the conversation… but that someone else could have done it.” The defense considered that for the eight months that the phone was in the police station – when the case was not being investigated as anything more than a suicide – it should have been guarded constantly.

“The evidence is contaminated,” he argued. Even so, in his final argument, he stated on several occasions: “The accused did not kill the minor, the minor committed suicide,” ignoring the theory of objective imputation that the prosecution presented.

The prosecution described Ivan as a normal teenager; the defense tried to show that he was a problematic child.

“He was a good kid. He didn’t deserve this just because he was discovering his sexuality… his life was taken away from him,” the prosecuting attorney told the jury. He spoke on behalf of Iván’s parents and brother, who burst into tears at the trial’s conclusion. “He was a normal teenager,” the prosecutor affirmed, responding to the defendant’s lawyer, who argued that Iván was a troubled hashish-user living a double life.

Iván, according to his friends, only smoked a joint “when they went out partying or on weekends.”

“He had consumption habits,” said the defendant’s lawyer, despite the fact that the toxicology report performed on the minor after his death was negative for narcotics. “He lied to his parents,” he continued, because conversations with his friends revealed that he had once misled them about where he was going. “He hung out in unsavory environments… something was happening to him, he had problems,” the defense lawyer deduced from statements made by Iván’s friends about him being a little withdrawn. These words provoked strong reactions from the father and brother of the victim; the presiding judge asked them to leave the courtroom.

The last person who spoke with Iván was his cousin, who testified at the trial. It was an hour before he threw himself off the roof of his building. Iván told his cousin that someone was threatening him, but he didn’t want to say more.

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