All of us have our dreams, our hopes and our motivations for who we are and what we do. As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, my dream is to help bring about “heavenly justice.” I must help to make justice a reality for the disadvantaged.
Marcelo and Daniel Castillo are brothers, living in Cochabamba, Bolivia. They grew up together and they were raised single-handed by their mother. Life was never easy, yet they managed to grow up. Naturally, they had to share often, sometimes even sharing hardships.
Now they are sharing a new and different hardship. In 2010 they were arrested, charged and held without bail for an accusation of child, sexual assault. They tried to hire their own lawyer. Their efforts and even the efforts of their mother failed. During pretrial proceedings, they had four different lawyers-some from the local, public defender´s office and some court appointed. Given their lack of a high school diploma, they did not understand their rights.
On the day scheduled for their trial in 2013, their lawyer did not show up. Their mother, Doña Victoria, pleaded with the judge to give her time to hire a lawyer. The judge refused and appointed two attorneys to represent them and ordered that the trial start as scheduled. The lawyers did not even have time to review the court or prosecutorial files. Marcello and Daniel did not have private conferences with their defense lawyers. Although the trial lasted four days, the lawyers never visited them in the jail. The lawyers did not present any witnesses or any other evidence on their behalf. At the time of the final argument, the defense lawyer for Daniel did not make a final argument of any kind—not even asking for leniency. Marcelo and Daniel were convicted and sentenced to ten and twenty years in prison respectively.
I met the Castillo brothers after their appeals had been rejected while visiting the men at El Abra prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After listening to their story, I could not help but recall my days as an assistant public defender in Detroit. I could not imagine agreeing to represent someone charged with a major felony without carefully reviewing the files, engaging in several, confidential conferences with my client, conducting an investigation and exploring all the possible defenses and the legal options short of a trial to resolve the case.
I decided that I had to consult Bolivian criminal defense lawyers. Most of the Bolivian lawyers simply threw up their hands and told me that there was nothing to be done. My conscience, however, told me that this was not just.
I remembered the words of Helen Keller.
I read their court files, I consulted others and I pondered the depth of the violation of their basic human right to a competent defense attorney.
After research and consultation with local Bolivian attorney and university professor Henry Pinto Davolos, I decided to draft a complaint to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights the Organization of American States (OEA). Bolivia is a member of the OEA. We filed the petition for review in May of 2015. Recently, the Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) notified me that they have accepted the petition for review and have requested that the Bolivian government answer the complaint (case No. P-609-15 Bolivia).
While the process in the OEA is admittedly slow, the boost to the self-esteem of the Castillo brothers when I informed them of the news and the fact that a local Bolivian newspaper had printed a large article on their case, provided the Castillo brothers and me with the encouragement we needed to continue. I hope to find some of what I call “heavenly justice” for the Castillo brothers. Similarly, I hope to establish a binding precedent so that no judge will appoint and permit lawyers who are unprepared to defend women and men charged with criminal defenses on the day of trial.
“Equal justice is a dream. We must make it a reality.” – John Cummiskey
Link to the attached document titled “Come and Meet the Missioners”
Meet the Missioners!
Location: Maryknoll House, 2360 Rice Blvd.
Houston, TX 77005
Date/time: Oct. 4, 2015, 2pm
Description: Join Lindsay Doucette to learn more about overseas Catholic mission at this “Meet the Missioners” event, presented jointly by Maryknoll Lay Missioners and our mission partners, the Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days is an annual encounter of people from more than 20 different Christian traditions, who meet each year to study a specific justice theme. They end the gathering with a visit to their congress persons to advocate change according to gospel values of justice and peace.
For this year’s conference, held April 17-20, the point of discussion and sharing was incarceration and the reality of prisons in the states and around the world. Nearly 1,000 members of the different faith traditions attended this year’s conference. Over 20 percent were Catholics.
Joanne Blaney (’91 Brazil) is pictured here (in the middle). Joanne has served as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner for more than two decades in Brazil. As an educator, she has worked in prison ministry, and along with a team, developed a system of restorative justice and right relationships. Her effective work and capacity to articulate the “what” and “why” of restorative justice has gained her international recognition. Joanne recently joined the MKLM team at its NY base of US operations as Director of Mission Services; responsible for recruitment, orientation, admissions, sending, Returned Missioners and Friends Across Borders. MKLM is very grateful that Joanne responded to our invitation to assume this key position and are confident in her leadership of the team and these important areas. We fully realize what a sacrifice it was to leave her beloved Brazil and incredible work.
Photo: Joanne is pictured at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, as she catches up with Mary DeLorey (’87 Peru), who currently works for Jesuits on justice issues and Gerry Lee (’84 Venezuela, US/leadership), who is now the Director of the Joint Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns.
Since July 2013, Maryknoll Lay Missioners has been a member of JFM. During this time MKLM has written and published several stories to the JFM Publications such as this bi-monthly e-newsletter. JFM feel that, “Our Christian faith invites us to become agents of God’s compassion in a wounded world.” We here at MKLM believe that, “The Compassion of the Faithful Transforms Lives.” Find out more about JFM.