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Victims fear release of Spain rapists, killers under rights law

30 november 2013, 12:28
General view of the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg. ©Reuters/Vincent Kessler
General view of the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg. ©Reuters/Vincent Kessler
Spanish courts are releasing serial rapists and killers under a European human rights ruling, terrifying their victims as authorities warn the convicts risk reoffending, AFP reports.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last month overruled a Spanish doctrine that let judges effectively prolong the jail terms of the most serious offenders.

As well as freeing dozens of convicted members of the Basque armed separatist movement ETA -- enraging victims' families -- the ruling has led to the release of notorious serial rapists and killers.

Among them is Manuel Gonzalez, known as the "madman in the tracksuit", who was jailed in 1997 for raping 16 women between 1991 and 1993 and killing one of them.

"The problem is not only that the victims feel uneasy, but that it puts all women in danger," said Maria Jose Varela, lawyer for one of Gonzalez's victims.

The European court said Spain had acted illegally by denying certain prisoners shortened sentences for good behaviour.

Gonzalez was sentenced to 169 years in jail in 1997 for the string of assaults in which he would attack his victims from behind with a knife.

He was released from jail in Barcelona last week after serving 20 years.

"According to the experts, he is not cured of his urges," the Catalonia region's interior minister, Ramon Espadaler, told Catalunya Radio.

"We are aware that this is an issue that naturally causes unease."

He said the courts ordered "non-intrusive" surveillance of Gonzalez by police, but acknowledged there were limits to how closely the convict could be monitored.

Varela told AFP that Gonzalez "has come out of jail without having been rehabilitated and with a medical report that says there is a high risk that he will commit the same deeds again. That is a cause for fear."

In the weeks since the Strasbourg ruling, Spanish courts have released several other rapists and killers.

The latest one was freed on Friday: Miguel Ricart, who raped and killed three children in the Valencia region in 1992. A court cut his prison time by 10 years.

"The outlook for his return to society is not favourable," prisons director Angel Yuste warned ahead of his release.

Under the previous doctrine, overturned by the European rights court, his years of remission were subtracted from his full 170-year sentence instead of being deducted from the maximum 30 years of prison time prescribed by Spanish law.

'They are all coming out at once'

Emilio Munoz, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing a girl in 1993, was freed on Wednesday less than halfway through his 43-year sentence.

Talking to reporters after leaving prison, he expressed regret for his crimes.

"I do not consider myself a danger," he said. "I made a serious mistake and I have paid for it."

Also released on Wednesday was Valentin Tejero, convicted of raping and killing a nine-year-old girl in 1992.

Among the other cases, a court has also freed Pablo Garcia Ribado, who was sentenced in 1996 to 1,721 years' jail for 74 rapes.

"They are all coming out at once, which makes us feel fear in our gut all day," said Varela.

The releases have sown "rage, outrage, impotence and sadness", said Luisa Ramon, a lawyer acting for the family of one of Ricart's victims.

"This is a man who is going to be released and could reoffend. He is a danger and a risk to society."

Spain's central government is working on a reform to the penal code to strengthen monitoring of released convicts considered at high risk of reoffending, Ramon noted.

"But that has not come into force yet."

By Daniel Bosque

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