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  • Foto do escritorDr. João De Sousa

"Disclosing and Strengthening Forensic Science in Portugal: A Homicide Case"

Atualizado: 24 de jan. de 2023

Poster presentation at the 73rd Annual Scientific Meeting (Virtual) of the American Association of Forensic Sciences


Dr. João De Sousa Forensic Consultant

In a city nearby Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, a 51 years old male triathlete disappears on July 16, 2018, after his daily cycle training according to his 43 years old wife´s statement to the authorities. The national media widely publicized his disappearance and with the local people´s help, his wife, family and authorities begun a man´s search.

One month and nine days after the missing person report, the dead body of the triathlete was found skeletonized, with firearm aggression signs, 91 miles away from home (his cycle training starting point).

After the criminal investigation work of the Judicial Police, the authorities found a firearm at the house of the 43 years old male lover of the triathlete´s wife and with the autopsy final results and conclusions, were both preemptively arrested on September 29, 2018.

The court trial started on September 10, 2019, with a people´s jury.

On September 10, 2019, the first session of the court trial begun with a large media coverage and was passionately followed by the Portuguese population.

After three months, the male lover of the triathlete´s wife was released from jail.

Three months later, on March 3, 2020, the people´s court has decided to condemn the triathlete´s wife to 25 years of prision (the maximum sentence in Portugal) by the murder of her husband and a not guilty decision to the lover, even though he owned the gun.

On September 8, 2020, after the Prosecutor appeal, a superior court of law decided against the people´s court decision and condemned the lover to the maximum sentence: 25 years by the murder of the triathlete, using his gun. This higher court kept the sentence of the triathlete´s wife by co-authorship.

At the present both of the condemned are appealing to the higher court and no one in the media or in the population understands this decisions. A national lively discussion about the Justice work is currently underway.

The problem with this criminal investigation and court trial was polyfactorial: the collection and value of evidence from crime scene that was presented to the people´s court, the misinterpretation of the collected forensic evidence, the way that the forensic practitioners and the police agents testify in court, the lawyer’s lack of knowledge and comprehension of the forensic evidence and the weak Portuguese judge´s and people´s knowledge of forensics.

To illustrate what was previously mentioned we have to look at the autopsy procedures failures, necropsy performed on August 8, 2018, and the exam conclusions misinterpretation by the people´s court: despite the existence of a regulatory norm – NP-INMLCF-008, Recommendation n.º R(99)3 of the European Council - that requires radiological diagnosis (Virtopsy) in firearm utilization cases, the Medical Examiner didn´t follow the correct procedures.

In addition, was detected and mentioned in his report that was found a hyoid bone fracture. The Medical Examiner told to the people´s court that this injury was not relevant for determining the cause of death. The Medical Examiner didn´t mention whether the injury was caused before, peri or post mortem nor the Court questioned. Result: doubts about the true cause of death.

About the firearm and the use and misuse by the Judge´s of a forensic exam: the forensic examination of the firearm and the projectile collected in the corpse were inconclusive.

The Court ruled that the weapon was responsible for firing the projectile despite the forensic exam not concluded so.

In the meantime another event took place (on 14 February, 2020) that raised questions about the criminal investigation proficiency and the court's decision: another firearm projectile was found in the house where the homicide presumably occurred (after the analysis of the police took place). During the trial it was demonstrated that the police did not follow the homicide case protocol.

The aim of this real case presentation is to demonstrate that there are flaws in the application of Justice in Portugal, flaws that can only be corrected if there is training and education in the field of Forensic Science. Both police actions and court decisions must follow scientific criteria and protocols because if not the error prevailed and the final decisions will be untruth, unaccountable, uncheckable, wrongful and truly unfair!

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