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Court finds Batangas ex-gov Leviste guilty of homicide

(Updated 3:25 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines – The Makati regional trial court on Wednesday found the former governor of Batangas, Jose Antonio Leviste, guilty of homicide in the death of his longtime aide Rafael de las Alas in January 2007. In a 38-page decision, RTC Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda meted Leviste the penalty of reclusion temporal or 6 to 12 years imprisonment. Alameda also ordered Leviste to indemnify the de las Alas family with P50,000 for civil damages and an additional P50,000 in moral damages. Leviste was charged with murder but the court convicted him for the lesser offense of homicide, saying that the shooting to death of de las Alas did not appear to be premeditated. Investigation showed that the two had engaged in a heated argument inside Leviste's office at the LPL Tower in Makati on Jan 12, 2007, and that Leviste repeatedly shot de las Alas in the head. Leviste later turned himself in to Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay. During the trial, Leviste argued that he shot his aide in an act of self-defense. But the court ruled that the accused “failed to satisfy the requirements of self-defense to justify shooting the victim." Alameda also took note of the five gunshot wounds sustained by de las Alas mostly on his head, saying, “It did not support the argument of self-defense. One shot would have been sufficient or enough to immobilize the victim. There was no longer any reason for the accused to shoot him four more times even aiming at the head, a vital organ." He also noted Leviste’s refusal to be subjected to a paraffin test, adding, “The natural tendency of a person claiming self-defense is to allow himself to be investigated by the police and spontaneously give his version of self-defense. This, he failed to do." In a statement released shortly after the decision was handed down, Leviste maintained his innocence. “The court has judged the way it sees it. But my conscience is clear and I am innocent. It behooves me, therefore, to file an appeal and get complete vindication for the sake of my family. I have nothing more to say. I leave my fate to God," Leviste said. Appeal The former governor was given 15 days to appeal the ruling before the Court of Appeals (CA). Alameda also said Leviste’s conviction cancels his standing bail bond and any motion for bail should be filed with the appellate court and not before his sala anymore. After the sentencing, Leviste was fetched by Senior Superintendent Gilbert Cruz, Makati police chief, from the court room and brought to the Makati City Jail, pending his transfer to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. While he was being escorted out of the 14th floor of the Makati City Hall, Leviste gave a parting shot to the lawyers and others who made his conviction possible. "As the Bible says – my message to the prosecutors – forgive those who persecute you and pray for them … And I will do that," Leviste said. ’We are happy’ The slain victim’s daughter Dinna de las Alas welcomed the court ruling, saying she was not at all bothered that Leviste’s conviction was downgraded to the lesser offense of homicide. "Natutuwa kami sa hatol. At least nakamtan namin ang hustisya. Masaya kami… Kahit ganun at least nakatikim siya ng pagkakulong (Justice was at least served on this case. We are happy with the decision. At least Leviste will languish in jail)," de las Alas told GMANews.TV. She said the decision was a surprise to her, her family and even to the prosecutors as they received no advanced information on Alameda’s decision. De las Alas said her family would organize a Thanksgiving Mass because of the court decision. "I don’t know kung salu-salo kasi hindi din naman maganda ang nangyari kasi kami ang nawalan (I don't know if a celebration would be appropriate after the Mass; we are still grieving)," she stressed. A contingent from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) showed up at the hearing to give moral support for the de las Alas Family. Other legal remedies Leviste’s daughter, Marie Antoinette, told reporters they respected Alameda’s decision, but would still resort to other legal remedies and appeal the decision with the Court of Appeals. "[W]e still stand by our father and his defense of self-defense," the younger Leviste said. She said she and her family are already leaving things up to God, adding she would continue praying and take in whatever God has planned for her family. "We’ll have to continue with this struggle but it’s not something we cannot overcome. Whatever the outcome will be, it would happen for a higher reason and that is all we are hanging on to, our faith in God," she said. Leviste expressed confidence that he would be acquitted of the murder charge when he appeals his case. "My family and I are continuing to pray. Together with my legal counsel, we have proven a strong case throughout the two-year trial and now I leave my fate in God's hand," he said. - GMANews.TV