Marine's lawyer had ‘no idea’ recant was coming
March 22, 2009
CHATAN, Okinawa — The lawyer for a Marine convicted of raping a woman in the Philippines three years ago denies his law firm had anything to do with her decision last week to recant her allegation.
Meanwhile, the senior jurist in the Philippines, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, told media Friday that he suspects anti-military groups in the country pressured the woman to pursue rape charges after the Subic Bay incident.
Women’s rights and anti-military activists in the Philippines, however, are claiming the woman’s recantation and subsequent move to the United States raise suspicions that she was coerced by Smith’s lawyers, family or U.S. and Philippine officials to change her story.
Jose Justiniano, who represents Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in the appeal of his 2006 conviction and 40-year prison sentence, said he was just as surprised as anyone when he read the five-page statement by the 25-year-old woman.
"I had no idea this would happen," he told Stars and Stripes in a telephone interview Friday from Manila. "We had nothing to do with this."
Justiniano said he and another lawyer representing Smith met with the woman, known publicly only as "Nicole," on March 12 after her family contacted him, saying she had fired her attorney and wished to accept the 100,000 pesos in compensatory damages ordered by the trial court when Smith was convicted in December 2006.
"We were pleased by this new development, especially since I had advised my client to make the payment a long time ago," Justiniano said. "It is a civil matter and not an admission of guilt."
But when they met with Nicole they were in for a surprise.
"The five-page document was totally unexpected," he said.
The statement was notarized by fellow lawyer Abraham Acosta and witnessed by Nicole’s mother and brother.
In her lengthy statement, Nicole said she might have been too drunk to realize what she was doing on Nov. 1, 2005, when she was with Smith and other Marines in a van outside a Subic Bay nightclub.
She said she might have led Smith on and was too scared to admit that the sex might have been consensual after she left the van in disarray and onlookers called police.
"It was a matter of convenience for us to notarize the document," Justiniano said. "We also notarized the document for the payment."
He scoffed at charges Nicole was "bought off" by Smith.
"It was not much money," he said.
The amount is equivalent to about $2,070.
Justiniano said he was constrained by court rules from commenting on what he will do with Nicole’s sworn statement.
Smith, now 23, is being held on the U.S. Embassy compound in Manila pending his appeal and negotiations between the U.S. and the Philippines concerning the country’s Supreme Court ruling in February that holding the Marine at the embassy was a violation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Opponents of the VFA say that if Nicole’s recantation eventually results in Smith’s conviction being overturned and his release, it would affect the negotiations by making questions about the legality of the agreement moot.
Liza Maza, leader of the Gabriela Women’s Party and a Philippines legislator, said Thursday that Nicole was a "scapegoat to save the VFA."
During a news conference in Manila, Maza said it was suspicious that Nicole received a visa to live in the United States with her American boyfriend just before she fired her attorney (another women’s rights activist) and recanted her story.
Rebecca Thompson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Manila, said in an e-mail to Stripes that Nicole’s visa was "adjudicated in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations."
Thompson referred all questions concerning the rape case, appeal and Nicole’s recent recantation to Philippine judicial officials.
Gonzalez said Friday that Nicole’s statement was "a mere scrap of paper, unless you will be able to convince the court to reopen the trial for admission of newly discovered evidence," according to a Department of Justice spokesman.
He also told reporters that before the start of the trial in 2006, Nicole sought an audience with him asking that certain "meaty portions" of her initial affidavit be stricken, his spokesman said.
"Maybe if that thing was pursued, or if I would have granted an audience to her and her lawyer, this would have never gone to court," Gonzalez said, according to media reports.
Instead of accusing Smith’s lawyers of paying her off, Gonzalez said anti-U.S. military parties might originally have pressured Nicole to pursue the rape allegation.
"It appears to me that we were taken for a ride," he told reporters.