A conviction for frustrated murder on Monica barangay kagawad Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. had long been affirmed by both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but because of the topsy-turvy files at the temporary quarters of Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in September 2012 at the De Paul College campus, the case records were buried out of sight.
And it was only during an inventory of cases conducted by RTC Branch 31 that court personnel discovered the case folders remanded by the Court of Appeals for implementation of the decision handed down by then RTC Branch 31 presiding judge Rene Hortillo imposing a prison term for Espinosa.
“By the time we found the case folders containing the decision of the Court of Appeals and order from the Supreme Court affirming the conviction, Judge Hortillo had already retired, and we could not proceed with the case,” a court official told The Daily Guardian over the weekend.
The official said it was only recently that RTC Branch 34 Presiding Judge Yolanda Panaguiton-Gavino was designated as acting Presiding Judge, and she is expected to report to her assigned sala in Branch 31 today, Monday, September 26, 2016.
“This case will be among the first to be taken up with Judge Gavino,” the official said.
She added that under court rules and procedures, Judge Gavino will issue a warrant of arrest against Espinosa and his companion, Robinito “Bord” Malaga, for them to be put to jail and serve the penalty for frustrated murder.
Espinosa and Malaga were found guilty for shooting and seriously wounding Mark Serra, a resident of Barangay Monica, at around midnight on November 24, 2002. A third accused, Cris Rudy Balidiong, died during the pendency of the case.
Espinosa was meted a prison term of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day of prison mayor as maximum. Malaga was sentenced to a more severe prison term of eight years and one day of prision mayor as minimum to 14 years, 8 months and one day of reclusion temporal as maximum.
Case records show that Serra was walking towards home from a dance hall in Barangay Concepcion that night when he passed by a foot walk where he saw Balidiong, Espinosa and Malaga standing on both sides.
Just as Serra passed by the three, Balidiong just shot him without provocation.
Although wounded, Serra was able to run away, during which time he saw Espinosa and Malaga emerging from the shadows with hand guns and firing at him but missed.
Both Espinosa and Malaga gave chase, their guns firing. Serra was hit on the left shoulder and right side of his back, court records show.
It was only when Serra reached the house of his first cousin that his attackers fled.
Serra was rushed to the Iloilo Mission Hospital where he had to undergo an operation to save his life.
In convicting Espinosa and Malaga, then RTC Branch 31 Presiding Judge Hortillo said there was no way Serra could not have identified his attackers, as he lived in the barangay, and the area where the attack took place was lighted.
In his decision dated June 20, 2005, Hortillo swept aside the defense of denial put up by the accused and pronounced them guilty of frustrated murder.
However, Espinosa filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that the trial court failed to give weight to the PNP Crime Laboratory report showing that he was negative for powder burns.
In an amended order, Hortillo reduced the penalty for Espinosa as an accomplice in the crime.
Espinosa filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals which upheld the ruling of Hortillo on July 14, 2008. He then filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court denied the appeal on May 30, 2011. An entry of judgment declaring the decision final and executory was made on October 24, 2011.
The markings on the case records show that these were sent by registered mail by the Court of Appeals on August 23, 2012 to RTC Branch 31 which had by then moved to its temporary sala at the De Paul College campus.
The Department of Public Works and Highways declared the Hall of Justice unsafe for occupancy and undertook refurbishing works to improve the structural integrity of the building.
The case records were marked “Received” by RTC Branch 31 on September 7, 2012.
The records also indicate that Espinosa’s counsel at the time, the late Atty. Felipe Macahilig, received a copy of the decisions at around the same time.
But the chaotic condition of the files at the temporary Hall of Justice led to the misplacement of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court records.
During the whole month of July this year, RTC Branch 31 personnel conducted an inventory of cases along with the rest of the judiciary and it was only then that the oversight on the enforcement of the decision was discovered.
All the courts and other agencies that held office at the Hall of Justice were ordered to evacuate from the Hall of Justice on February 25, 2012 after a strong earthquake caused cracks on its walls and floors.
This is the second prison sentence to be imposed on Espinosa.
In 1995, he was also convicted for the murder of a deaf-mute in Barangay Monica. He was sentence to serve an indeterminate sentence of 10 years and one day as minimum to 17 years and four months as maximum.
He was released from the Bilibid prison after serving the minimum prison sentence.