After 26 years, a father’s last chance to bring his daughter’s murderer to justice

Martín Mestre found the killer living a normal life in Brazil, but Colombia’s extradition request was denied. Now that ruling could be reversed on appeal

Martin Mestre, en su casa de Barranquilla
Martin Mestre, at his home in Barranquilla last December.Charlie Cordero

Martín Mestre is 80 years old now, and wary of getting his hopes up about ever seeing his daughter’s murderer behind bars. Since January 1, 1994, Mestre single-mindedly pursued the man who raped and killed his daughter, Nancy. After 26 years of fruitless efforts, Mestre and Interpol finally found the killer hiding in Brazil. Mestre’s elation was soon crushed by a Brazilian Supreme Court ruling that the statute of limitations for the killer’s conviction had expired. But Mestre didn’t give up and enlisted a law firm in Washington, DC to file an appeal of the ruling. To everyone’s surprise, the Brazilian Supreme Court accepted the case.

In 1996, a Colombian judge sentenced Jaime Saade in absentia to 27 years in jail for the rape and murder of Nancy Mariana Mestre; Saade had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth on the night of the murder. This conviction will expire in June 2023, so Mestre’s quest for justice will die if Saade is not extradited before then. The Brazilian Supreme Court will convene a hearing in late October to decide whether to confiscate Saade’s passport and prevent him from leaving the country. Following that, the Supreme Court will have to decide whether the original extradition ruling should be overturned.

“The court could have immediately denied our appeal but didn’t because our arguments are quite compelling,” said Margarita R. Sanchez, a partner at the Miller & Chevalier law firm in Washington, DC. The appeal argues that the court misapplied Brazilian law when it denied Saade’s extradition because it erroneously determined that Colombia’s statute of limitations for Saade’s conviction had expired. Secondly, the appeal argues that the extradition denial resulted from a tied Supreme Court vote, which is only valid for criminal cases. “This case was about application of an extradition treaty between two sovereign nations, and as such it is a matter of international legal cooperation,” said Sánchez.

The facts

Martín Mestre’s long ordeal goes all the way back to 1993 – New Year’s Eve in Barranquilla (northeast Colombia). The Mestres celebrated by enjoying a family dinner together. Nancy Mariana, 18, then asked if she could go out with Jaime, whom she had been dating for some time. Mestre said goodbye at the door and told Jaime, “Look after her.”

Mestre woke up with a jolt at 6am on New Year’s Day – Nancy hadn’t come home. He went out looking for his daughter, swearing that he wouldn’t get mad when he found her. Mestre drove to the Saade’s house where he found Jaime’s mother mopping the floor. “Your daughter had an accident – she’s at the Caribbean Clinic,” she said. When Mestre got to the hospital, Jaime’s father told him that Nancy had tried to take her own life. Jaime was nowhere to be found. Nancy lingered between life and death for eight days and never regained consciousness. During the trial of Jaime Saade, suicide was ruled out. The police investigation determined that Saade had raped and shot Nancy in the head.

Jaime Saade
Recent photo of Jaime Saade, Nancy Mestre’s killer.Charlie Cordero

For Mestre, the years that followed Nancy’s death were like chasing a ghost. Interpol issued a search warrant for Saade, while Mestre took a course on intelligence gathering. He became an expert on the internet and tirelessly followed every lead. Using fake social media accounts, Mestre connected with people close to the Saade family and began to notice references to a tourist resort in Santa Marta (Colombia) called Belo Horizonte. Mestre started wondering if Saade was hiding out in the Brazilian city of the same name and alerted Interpol, who found a man named Henrique Dos Santos Abdala matching Saade’s description. They collected fingerprints from a glass that Dos Santos used and matched them to Jaime Saade – 26 years after he murdered Nancy.

Martín Mestre was overjoyed – at last he would see his daughter’s murderer behind bars. Jamie Saade had a new name and was leading a seemingly normal life in Belo Horizonte with a wife and two children. His extradition to Colombia seemed a foregone conclusion, but when the official request was heard by Brazil’s Supreme Court, the justices mistakenly applied Brazil’s 20-year statute of limitations to the conviction instead of Colombia’s 30-year statute of limitations. Two justices voted in favor of extradition and two against; the fifth justice was away on leave. The tie vote favored Saade, who resumed his life in Belo Horizonte, and Martín Mestre’s hopes were once again crushed.

The lawyers in Washington, DC pressured the Colombian government to renew its extradition request, which turned out to be untenable. Three official letters were sent by the previous administration, including two from former Vice President Martha Lucia Ramirez, asking Brazil to reconsider the case. Nothing happened. The appeal was a last-ditch attempt when all seemed lost. Now there are only eight months left to extradite Saade to Colombia before the statute of limitations on his rape and murder conviction expires. But Martín Mestre sees light at the end of this very long tunnel, and he’s walking hopefully toward it.

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