Photo via La Prensa

President Mauricio Macri waded head-first yesterday into a debate that has engulfed the nation on justifiable homicide. And the comments caught many people off-guard. After all, it’s not every day that the president comments on an ongoing criminal case, especially one that has the whole country talking.  In an interview with Radio La Red, Macri said that, if there’s no flight risk the butcher who ran over a thief should be “with his family, calm, trying to reflect about everything that happened” because “he is sane, beloved and a recognized member of the community.”

It sure sounded like what Macri was doing was picking sides in the seemingly endless debate about vigilante justice that often crops up in Argentina. Yet, when analyzed with a cold, analytic mind, what Macri said is basically what the law establishes for these types of cases. However, his words sparked controversy among many who interpreted that, by only referring to the strictly legal aspect of a case with such a high moral component, he failed to make it clear that the state can’t ever support anyone who decides to take justice into his or her own hands.

Just like the doctor who killed the thief trying to steal his car last month, the butcher who on Tuesday killed a thief by running him over with his car was released from prison today. Just like the doctor, this doesn’t mean Daniel “Billy” Oyarzún has been found innocent. The case is still under investigation and he has been charged with simple homicide.

Oyarzún was released because in these types of cases judges are only supposed to remand suspects in custody if they believe there is a real chance the suspect will escape. Clearly overwhelmed by the situation Oyarzún, spoke to the media today and made it clear he was not proud of what he did: “If I could go back in time I would,” Oyarzún said amid tears and inconsolable sobbing. “I totally regret it.”

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Some have outright defended the butcher’s actions arguing he did act in self-defense and that he reacted because, just like a significant part of society, is fed up with the country’s high crime levels. In this particular case, Oyarzún’s defense would seem to face an uphill battle. By being inside the car and chasing down the thief, he was in a position of strength that will make it difficult to justify his actions constituted a “rational need for the action used in order to prevent or repel an aggression,” which is one of the three factors that have to be present for a person to be able to claim justifiable homicide. The other two are:

  • Illegitimate agression
  • Lack of a certain level of provocation by the defendant.

These stances were reflected by media outlets with diametrically opposed views that analyzed both the case and Macri’s statements. On the one hand, outlets like Página 12 and Diario Registrado were clear to establish their opinion that Macri’s words were nothing short of a defense of the butcher’s actions, which they considered to be a case of vigilante justice. On the other, analysis pieces by outlets such as Clarín and La Nación pondered that these actions are a direct result of an absent state that does not do enough to combat crime.

Faithful to its style, Diario Registrado began an article on the subject by peronally insulting Macri, noting that “as a good bourgeois who values material property over life, Macri came out to defend the butcher who killed a ‘criminal’.” The article did not mince words: “The fact that the president would weigh into the issue with this premise, even if this means going back hundreds of years in our civilization, is unthinkable and even unacceptable and dangerous.”

Diario Registrado may have been straight forward, but maybe the best example of how the polarization in the conversation is that La Nación and Página 12 practically wrote two opposing versions of the same article: they asked criminal law experts to support their respective stances. Of course, the law, especially criminal law, has more interpretations than Your Song, by Elton John so it isn’t difficult to find someone who will agree with you.

In an article headlined “playing with fire with one eye on the polls,” Director of the Center for Criminal Policy and Human Rights Studies, Claudia Cesaroni, told Página 12 that with his statements, Macri was implying that the butcher was “someone” and the thief was “nobody.” Cesaroni went on: “Coming from the president that greenlights any kind of attitude and zero empathy with the person who is a nobody. You can crush him against a tree, beat him, kill him.”

In contrast, criminal profiler María Laura Quiñones told La Nación that “these kind of events can be traumatic for anyone because it places the initial victim in a state that alters his or her critical judgement and activates the most primitive instinct of survival.”

At the end of the day, it will be the courts who determine if this constitutes a justifiable homicide. But for now, anyone can turn to an outlet of choice to confirm what he or she is already thinking. And Macri certainly did not help things.