DOJ clears Tómbola case for death penalty
Alexis Candelario Santana, 40, is set to go to trial in the U.S. District Court in San Juan in January, with Judge José Fusté presiding. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico doesn’t have to seek the death penalty despite the capital case certification from Washington.
Candelario, a reputed drug lord in the Sabana Seca area of Toa Baja, has multiple previous convictions on second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons violations. He and other defendants beat local charges on a technicality in the La Tómbola killings, which were apparently tied to a war over drug turf involving the owner of the bar.
The eight people slain were among a group of men, women and children celebrating a birthday party at the La Tómbola establishment when gunmen opened fire into the crowded bar.
The island Constitution explicitly bans capital punishment, but it is applicable in certain cases across the U.S. regardless of local capital-punishment statutes. Federal prosecutors in Puerto Rico have to announce plans to try for capital certification and get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington to seek the death penalty.
To date, no jury in a capital-certified case in Puerto Rico has returned with a death sentence, but federal prosecutors have generally sought capital punishment in cases that qualify.
The last time the death penalty was used in Puerto Rico was in 1927, when farm worker Pascual Ramos was hanged for beheading his boss with a machete.
The abolishment of the death penalty was a topic of debate in the island Legislature throughout the early 1900s until it was finally jettisoned in 1929 under a bill filed by lawmaker Juan García Ducós.
Capital punishment was explicitly banned by the Commonwealth Constitution in 1952.
Between its abolishment in 1929 in Puerto Rico and its reinstatement in certain federal cases in 1994, death penalty cases have popped up.