While officials recaptured two convicted sex criminals this week and arrested a schoolteacher suspected of sexually abusing at least 10 of his students, the head of the Public Security Ministry’s special sex crimes unit estimated another 250 convicted sex criminals remain on the loose.
“We are expecting to capture 100 (sex) criminals this year,” said Paúl Chavez, in charge of the Directorate of Special Investigations (DIE), and who has been overseeing the reinvigorated hunt for convicted sex criminals since the DIE was restructured last year (TT, Dec. 2, 2005).
Chávez and DIE officers arrested 40 sex criminals last year, he told The Tico Times, and 16 more this year, counting the two this week.
Monday’s arrest of Óscar Gómez, a 33-year-old computer engineer, was, for Chávez, an important capture. The director explained that the vast majority of the fugitives arrested have been “non-qualified professionals, basically laborers, people with low-key professions.” Gómez, who worked for the transnational computerchip manufacturer Intel, was “an exceptional” case.
“It is my understanding that Intel is very careful in the recruitment of its people,” Chávez said, explaining that Gómez likely presented a falsified, blank criminal record to be hired.
The engineer was convicted in 1999 of sexually abusing a minor and sentenced to four years in prison, but had been free until Tuesday, Chávez explained. The other recaptured fugitive, a 49-year-old security guard identified as Julio Gutiérrez, had also been convicted of sexually abusing a minor, and was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001, Chávez said.
According to Chávez, who has worked with the Public Security Ministry for 30 years, these convicted sex criminals, and others, have been able to elude justice because of a flawed judicial process that allows convicted criminals to remain free while they appeal their convictions. Only if a judge rules that a suspect is a flight risk or might destroy evidence is he or she placed in jail, under what is called preventive detention, while being investigated by judicial authorities, Chávez explained. If a suspect is convicted, that person can appeal his or her conviction and if already free, will likely remain free while the appeal is processed. For many, the time granted by the appeal allows them to escape, Chávez said.
“Obviously this is a systemic problem. It’s not easy to fix,” Chavez said, estimating that in addition to 250 convicted sex criminals roaming free, so are another 1,000 people convicted of other crimes, including murder and drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, OIJ agents Tuesday arrested a schoolteacher in Pocosol de San Carlos, in north-central Costa Rica, charged with sexually abusing at least 10 girls between the ages of 10-11. The teacher, identified by the last name González, has been ordered to six months in preventive custody, according to a Judicial Branch statement.