A key witness disappeared during the trial of several Barrio 18 gang members accused of carrying out a massacre, in another blow to efforts tackle rampant impunity in Honduras.
The trial against three men accused of murdering 17 people in 2010 was suspended after a gang member turned state witness failed to appear ahead of his scheduled testimony, and could not be located by the authorities, reported La Tribuna.
According to prosecutors, the witness had participated in the murder plot, but had turned on his gang mates to provide critical information about the involvement of the accused. Although he had already provided written testimony, his presence at the trial is also required.
The defendants stand accused of murdering 17 people in a shoe factory in September 2010. According to the version of events presented at the trial, the three men carried out the killings because two of the workers were linked to rival gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and were selling drugs in Barrio 18 territory.
The trial is now slated to restart on August 8.
InSight Crime Analysis
The massacre of the 17 workers is one of the worst gang-related atrocities Honduras has witnessed, and a conviction would be a symbolic blow against impunity in Honduras.
That conviction remains a possibility due to the weight of material evidence: when arrested, the defendants were reportedly found in possession of weapons and the vehicle used in the massacre. However, the testimony of the missing witness was seen as key to the case. If he does not reappear — which seems extremely unlikely, especially if his former gang mates have reached him — then it could be fatally undermined.
If prosecutors fail to obtain a conviction after taking the case as far as trial — itself an unusal occurance in Honduras — it would represent another setback in attempts to tackle impunity and the influence of gangs in the violence-plagued country.