Former Public Defender Commits Suicide in Prison

October 10, 2008

Luis Fernando Burgos, a former public defender serving 35 years for murdering his wife, committed suicide this week in his cell at La Reforma prison in Alajuela, northeast of San José.

In a scandal that embroiled all sections of the Judicial Branch, Burgos was convicted in September 2007 in the apparent strangulation of his wife Maureen Hidalgo, a judicial assistant, in what was arguably the trial of the year.

The period for appeal of Burgos’ sentence expired three weeks ago.

Although no physical evidence was ever found to connect Burgos – who maintained his innocence in court – to the murder, several witnesses came forward with stories that Burgos had told them that he had committed the murder in the days following his wife’s disappearance.

Two men testified that Burgos asked them to help him remove Hidalgo’s body from the apartment. Also, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese received an anonymous tip, later revealed to be Judge Elizabeth Tossi, that Burgos had committed the murder.

Most damning was lead witness Zulay Rojas, a former state prosecutor and ex-girlfriend of Burgos, who testified Burgos killed Hidalgo at the couple’s Zapote apartment in southeastern San José on the morning of July 11, 2006, and then came to Rojas’ house to confess the murder.

Burgos reported his wife’s disappearance two days later, and Tossi’s tip to Dall’Anese came in two hours after his report.

A bicyclist found Hidalgo’s body July 16, 2006, in Atenas, about an hour west of San José. Coroners were unable to determine the cause of death.

Rojas was questioned by police shortly after but waited nine days to come forward with her testimony of Burgos’ visit. She was charged with withholding information, for which she received two years in prison.

Hidalgo’s family members, Rojas and one of Hidalgo’s ex-boyfriends, a public defender himself, all testified that Burgos was abusive and that Hidalgo had complained to them of abuse several times.

Burgos had accused Hidalgo of infidelity.

In addition to his sentence, Burgos was ordered to pay $350,000 in damages to his wife’s family (TT, Aug. 10, 2007, and Sept. 28, 2007).

 

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