Llenas-Aybar murder refers to the murder of twelve-year-old
José Rafael Llenas Aybar (often referred to as El caso Llenas). It was
a high-profile murder case which took place in the Dominican Republic
in May 1996.
It gained notoriety due to the tragic nature of the murder but also
because the victim was from a middle-upper-class family with very
close ties to media moguls, one of the individuals accused of taking
part in the crime, Mario José Redondo Llenas (“Redondo Llenas”), was a
cousin of the victim, and the family of the Argentine ambassador
allegedly had ties to the incident.
On May 4, 1996, José Rafael Llenas Aybar, the child of a
middle/upper-class family of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was
found murdered, lying in a creek bed some 24 km to the northwest of
the city. His body was bound in duct tape and had received thirty-four
Several factors surrounding the investigation and
trial hindered the discovery of the exact motives behind the crime,
the number and identity of the people involved, as well as what
exactly occurred that day:
The scene where the body was found was controlled
by the authorities only after dozens of people had gone through it –
some were officials but many others were individuals whose
identities were never confirmed and whose motives could have ranged
from simple curiosity to intentional contamination of the scene.
The scientific value of the autopsy was
compromised by the fact that it was practiced after the body had
been submitted to funerary processes, causing the permanent loss of
valuable evidence, including but not limited to, details regarding
used weapons and number of attackers.
The alleged murder weapon(s) was (were) never
The clothes of the victim and of the accused went
missing while in police custody, barring the opportunity for any
type of forensic examination.
Redondo Llenas alleged that police officers
falsely denied the existence of audio transcripts from his
interrogation while in police custody. The police argued that the
recordings never existed but during the trial there was evidence,
including testimony from the victim’s mother, that officers recorded
at least parts of the interrogation. The content of the audio
transcripts and the reason for their disappearance remain a mystery.
Redondo Llenas alleged that Teresa Meccia’s
husband, the then Argentine ambassador to the Dominican Republic,
Luis Palmas de la Calzada, and son, Martin Palmas Meccia, were
involved. Palmas Meccia graduated high school with Redondo Llenas
and the other accused, Juan Moliné Rodriguez. Specifically, Redondo
Llenas asserted that Palmas de la Calzada forced them to murder the
boy under the threat that if they did not he would murder Redondo
Llenas’ younger sister. Additionally, Redondo Llenas asserted that
in a period of approximately four months he was submitted to a
series of traumatic experiences by the Palmas family that included
witnessing drug deals by the Palmas, at least one other murder and
had been the victim of a sexual attack which was videotaped by Luis
Palmas de la Calzada. The Argentinian family vehemently denied all
allegations but several factors cast doubt over their denial:
The site where the body was found was close to
one of the Palmas’ properties, a dog breeding facility.
The Palmas’ attitude following the accusations
was out of the ordinary for a diplomatic family – they resisted
cooperating minimally with the authorities, utilized their
diplomatic immunity protection to oppose any interrogation and
investigation of their home or any of their properties and
immediately exited the country.
They jeopardized their reputation, future
career opportunities and left behind many of their assets, solely
due to the accusations of Redondo Llenas, an 18-year-old murder
The vehicle allegedly used for the crime was
seized by police officers but was never examined forensically. It
was repaired and was assigned to active police service only three
days after the crime had taken place, in obvious violation of the
law and due process.
While the case was in “instruccion”, a phase in
the Dominican criminal process where an appointed magistrate
conducts a separate investigation while appraising the merits of the
case proposed by the police, a set of bizarre events took place:
- The magistrate, Alexis Henriquez, requested
supplementary security and the local police assigned him a bodyguard
that had been working for Palmas Meccia. According to Redondo Llenas
this man was present on the day that Palmas Meccia, acting on behalf
of his father, Palmas de la Calzada, gave the instructions to
deliver the boy.
- Key evidence allegedly disappeared from the
office of the magistrate including video footage obtained by the
investigative magistrate that was supposed to have proved the
linkage of the Palmas’ to this case and other criminal activities.
- There were continuous leakages to the press
regarding the direction of the investigation that jeopardized the
authorities’ ability to have the upper hand and allowed potential
suspects to cover their tracks.
The police investigations concluded the crime was
as a kidnapping with the intention of asking for a ransom of
approximately US$700,000, but there was no evidence found or
presented to prove the accused ever asked for money.
There was speculation about possible sexual
motives but there was no evidence found or presented to prove abuse.
According to the interrogation and trial
transcripts, Redondo Llenas (18 years old at the time), under duress
by Palmas de la Calzada, and Moliné Rodriguez (also 18 years old at
the time) invited José Rafael Llenas Aybar out. The boy accepted the
invitation after asking and obtaining permission from his mother. It
is unknown what exactly happened between the time the boy left his
home and the time he was found dead.
The fact that the boy and the mother felt safe with Redondo Llenas
suggest that up to that point in their lives Redondo Llenas was a
trusted member of the family. What happened to Redondo Llenas that
transformed him from trusted cousin to accomplice in murder is
possibly the greatest mystery of this tragic crime.
He has argued exceptional duress from the Palmas’ while psychiatric
tests on both Redondo Llenas and Moliné Rodriguez suggest personality
disorders. The scientific value of these tests has been questioned by
experts because of the manner in which the tests were performed,
conclusions drawn and presented.
The trial concluded in January 1997 with guilty verdicts for Redondo
Llenas and Moliné Rodriguez; both were sentenced to the maximum
penalty of 30 years' imprisonment and charged US$300,000 each in
damages to the victim’s family. An appeal in 1999 slightly reduced
Moline Rodriguez’s term to 20 years, on account that he was an
Palmas de la Calzada and his family were never prosecuted, first due
to their diplomatic status which was the result of a direct
designation by former Argentine president Carlos Menem, and second,
because they quickly left the country, even before the Argentine
government terminated their tenure. Although repeatedly summoned by
the Dominican authorities they never returned.
The possibility of a satanic implication to the case was discussed and
caused a lot of concern among the very religious; Dominican Republic
is 90% Roman Catholic. A member of the Llenas family appeared in a
widely seen TV show in the Dominican Republic, Revista 110
produced by Julio Hazim, to discuss potential evidence of a satanic
cult and the Palmas’ relationship to Macumba and black magic
practitioners such as José López Rega, who is known as “El Brujo”.
The trial of Redondo Llenas and Moliné Rodriguez
was one of the very first broadly televised in Dominican history. The
broadcast highly out-rated all other programming during its course.
Further investigation by Dominican journalist and filmmaker Erwin Cott
uncovered that Palmas de la Calzada was a member of ultra-rightist
Argentine Anticommunist Alliance during the Dirty War, an organization
said to be responsible for countless deaths and disappearances during
the 1970s in Argentina.
Mario Redondo Llenas
José Rafael Llenas Aybar, 12