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Trial begins for the rape and murder of Spanish schoolteacher Laura Luelmo

The self-confessed killer, Bernardo Montoya, is facing reviewable permanent prison for sexually assaulting and killing the 26-year-old in 2018

Bernardo Montoya juicio
A 2018 protest against the murder of Laura Luelmo. Signs read: “For a future in which every woman and girl can return to her home safe and sound” and “We are all Laura.”ALEJANDRO RUESGA

No one has moved into the home where Laura Luelmo lived for just three days, the last of her life. The house on Córdoba street in the small Spanish village of El Campillo, in Huelva province, has remained empty since December 12, 2018, when the 26-year-old schoolteacher was allegedly abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered by her neighbor, Bernardo Montoya. The trial for the crime, which sent shockwaves across Spain, began on Monday in the Huelva Provincial Court. The public prosecutor is calling for Montoya to be sentenced to reviewable permanent prison, or prisión permanente revisable in Spanish, which is the maximum sentence given to perpetrators of egregious crimes. Those convicted must serve a minimum number of years before their case may come up for review, but the prison term is not the same as life imprisonment.

The nine-member jury that will hear the first five hearings of the trial will have to decide if Montoya is guilty of the two hours of suffering inflicted upon Luelmo before her death. According to the public prosecutor, Montoya – a repeat offender with convictions for violent crime and robbery – attacked the teacher outside her home when she returned from the supermarket. Montoya allegedly forced Luelmo inside his dilapidated family home, where he had been living for two years after being released from prison, and began to beat her up, kicking her and striking her with a “long, blunt instrument,” as outlined in the provisional conclusions of prosecutor Jessica Sotelo, to which El PAÍS has had access.

With Luelmo badly injured, Montoya allegedly tied her hands behind her back, hauled her to his bedroom and sexually assaulted her. After subjecting the 26-year old to “unnecessary suffering,” according to the public prosecution, he struck her with a heavy object and she died from the blow. The accused is alleged to have then put Luelmo’s body in the trunk of his run-down Alfa Romeo and dumped it in Las Mimbreras, a difficult to access area, overrun by shrubs, near the 346 national highway. This took place between 5.25pm and 7.25pm on December 12, but her body was not recovered until five days later. On December 18, Montoya was arrested in the outskirts of Cortegana, a village in Huelva, where in 1994, he killed an elderly woman while robbing her.

Laura Luelmo, the schoolteacher murdered in Huelva.
Laura Luelmo, the schoolteacher murdered in Huelva.

Since then, Montoya has provided four different versions of what happened. In the first, he confessed to the crime, but allegedly lied to avoid being accused of sexual assault. Then, he said his former partner, a woman named Josefa, had killed Luelmo out of jealousy. However, Josefa has never been considered a suspect by authorities. Montoya’s lawyer, Miguel Rivera, has only one last resort: to show that his client did not rape Luelmo. To prove this, Rivera asked back in September 2019 for Montoya to be submitted to medical tests in order to show his alleged impotence. EL PAÍS has tried to contact Rivera twice, both times without success.

The difference between murder and aggravated murder for crimes against sexual freedom is the possibility of Montoya being sentenced to reviewable permanent prison. However, public prosecutor Alfredo Flores argues that the distinction between the attempt and the consummation of the sexual assault will not stop the prosecution from calling for the maximum sentence: “Within crimes against sexual freedom, there are many classes. In the extreme cases that a person was impotent, the most aggravated types are not allowed, but the rest of them are. But the Supreme Court responds very strongly to any behavior in relation to sexual freedom that constitutes a crime.”

Flores adds that the case is not “technically complex,” and that the main challenge will be controlling the media attention it receives. The judge overseeing the case, Florentino Gregorio Ruiz Yamuza, announced on Monday that the trial would be held behind closed doors, with the courtroom also closed to the media. Since the murder, Luelmo’s parents and two siblings have remained silent, only breaking their silence once to criticize the “spectacle” surrounding the case – which has received intense media attention – and to denounce the “failure” of the state. The lawyer of the private prosecution against Montoya, Francisco Luelmo, who is a relative of the victim, has also refrained from making any statements about the case.

Key testimony

Luelmo’s parents, however, are among the witnesses who the public prosecution will call to the stand this week. On the first day of the trial, Montoya said he was innocent and blamed his ex-partner for murdering the 26-year-old, according to EFE. Witnesses will testify on Tuesday, and on Wednesday and Thursday, Civil Guard investigators and forensic doctors will appear before court. After that, the jury will deliberate, with a verdict expected on Friday. Montoya is facing reviewable permanent prison and 32 years more behind bars for illegal detention, sexual assault – aggravated by gender violence – and murder – aggravated by recidivism, according to the charges of the public prosecution.

Laura Luelmo moved to Huelva province to fill in as a visual arts teacher at Huelva’s Vázque Díaz de Nerva secondary school. She had received the position after passing her government entrance exams to be a teacher, which was the 26-year-old’s dream. Luelmo, who was born in Villabuena del Puente, a village of 700 in Zamora province, started working at the school on December 4, 2018. After spending a few nights in a hostel, she found a house in El Campillo and moved in on December 9.

On Córdoba street, she met the man who would end up killing her. Montoya spent the afternoons at the door of his ramshackle house, using a coal burner to stay warm, as neighbors in the area described at the time. Three days after moving to El Campillo she was attacked by the neighbor. Luelmo was missing for five days before her body was discovered – a period in which the entire area came together to look for the young schoolteacher, whom they barely had time to get to know.

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