1. Key facts of the case
On 27 February 2018 in Las Hortichuelas – a small village in the south of Spain – Gabriel Cruz, aged 9, disappeared. That same day a large search operation was activated which, according to the Guardia Civil39, involved more than 3,000 volunteers and 2,000 members of the State Security Forces. The search operation lasted 12 days, and ended with the arrest of the victim’s stepmother, Ana Julia Quezada, while she was driving Gabriel’s body to a new location where it could not be found by the authorities. After her arrest, Quezada confessed to having killed Gabriel Cruz, but claimed that it had been an accident and that she had no intention of ending his life. During the trial, the defence maintained this version and argued that the boy had insulted and made vexatious comments towards the defendant, which, together with the fact that she was under the effects of the consumption of anxiolytics, diminished her capacity to control her actions and understand their consequences.
However, the people’s jury that judged the case did not consider these circumstances to be proven, and determined that Ana Julia Quezada asked the young man to accompany her to a family farm and once there proceeded to push him and suffocate him. As a result, Ana Julia Quezada was sentenced on 30 September 2019 to permanent revisable imprisonment – the name by which the Spanish legal system designates life imprisonment – for the murder of Gabriel Cruz.
In addition, this judgment also convicted the defendant of two offences of injury to mental health and offences against moral integrity committed against the child’s parents. The jury considered that the defendant had committed these crimes due to her actions after the disappearance of the child. Quezada actively participated in the search operation and in the various acts of solidarity with the family that were organised, repeatedly expressing her hope that the child would be found safe and sound. During one of the searches, she even placed a T-shirt of the child on some bushes, so that it would be found and thus, according to the sentence, “distract attention from the
search for the child” and “direct suspicion towards her ex-partner”.
From the moment of the child’s disappearance, the case generated considerable media interest, occupying a large part of the country’s morning talk shows for days. The victim’s relatives, including Quezada, were interviewed on multiple occasions during the search, and the child’s parents gave several press conferences both during the search and after the arrest of the perpetrator of the crime. Some organisations that defend the rights of racialised people have considered that the media treatment of the case after the arrest of Ana Julia Quezada, a black woman born in the Dominican Republic, had a certain racist character and contributed to reinforcing racist attitudes.
2. Applicable law
After the arrest of Ana Julia Quezada and the investigation of the facts, the Court of Instruction number 5 of Almeria referred the case to the Provincial Court of Almeria to proceed to prosecute the facts. As Quezada was accused of one of the types of homicide included in articles 138 and 140 of the Penal Code, a People’s Jury was constituted, in application of Organic Law 5/1995 of the Jury Court, to hear the case and determine the proven facts as well as their fit within the crime types set out in the Criminal Code.
In its brief of definitive conclusions – a pre-trial act by which the parties formalise their pre-trial claims – the Public Prosecutor’s Office described the facts as constitutive of the crime of murder under article 139.1 1º, based on the consideration that the accused killed the minor with malice aforethought 43. Given that the victim was under 16 years of age, the prosecution requested that, in application of article 140.1 1º of the Criminal Code, the accused be sentenced to permanent revisable imprisonment. For its part, the private prosecution – representing the victim’s parents in the proceedings – requested the same sentence, but qualified the victim’s death as aggravated murder, based on the consideration that the accused killed the minor with malice aforethought – an element which qualifies intentional homicide as murder – and with malice aforethought 44- art. 139.1 3º -, a circumstance which, when combined with malice aforethought, would aggravate the murder.
In addition, the prosecution also requested the conviction of the defendant for two offences of injury to mental health under Article 147.1 of the Criminal Code, which she had committed against the victim’s parents for her actions after the disappearance of the child, an offence which is punishable under the Spanish Criminal Code by a prison sentence of three months to three years, or a fine of six to twelve months. One of these offences, that which was committed against the victim’s father and the defendant’s partner, should be aggravated by virtue of the relationship between the two, and therefore the penalty should be imposed in the upper half of the sentence
range. To these offences, the private prosecution also added two offences against moral integrity – art. 173.1 CC – also committed against the victim’s parents, which carry a prison sentence of six months to two years. Again, regarding the offence against the moral integrity of the child’s father, the aggravating circumstance of the relationship between offender and victim – art. 23 – should be applied.
3. Criminal proceedings
Ana Julia Quezada was arrested on 11 March by the Guardia Civil while transporting the victim’s body to a new location. She remained in detention until the 13th, when she was interrogated by the judge, after which the examining magistrate ordered the detention to be extended for a further 24 hours. After these 24 hours, the examining magistrate’s court ordered her to be remanded in custody without bail. Ana Julia Quezada remained in pre-trial detention until 16 December 2020, when the Supreme Court ratified the conviction handed down by the Provincial Court of Almeria on 30 September 2019.
The Provincial Court of Almeria, which heard the case in the first instance, sentenced Ana Julia Quezada to permanent revisable imprisonment for the murder of a 16-year-old minor, with the aggravated circumstance of the relationship between the two. For this crime, she was also sentenced to absolute disqualification and prohibited from residing in or going to Nijar – the municipality where the minor’s parents live – and from communicating with or approaching the minor’s parents for 30 years. The jury also found her guilty of two offences of injury to mental health and two offences against moral integrity. Consequently, the court sentenced the defendant to three years’ imprisonment for the psychological injuries caused to the father of the minor – a crime aggravated by the relationship between the two – and to 2 years and 8 months for those caused to the mother, as well as to 1 year and 6 months’ imprisonment for a crime against the moral integrity of the father and to one year’s imprisonment for a crime against the moral integrity of the mother.
Regarding civil liability, this conviction also imposed on the defendant payment of the legal costs for all parties, of the costs of the search for the child – totaling 200,203.38 euros – and of compensation to the child’s parents of 250,000 euros for the moral damages suffered.
All parties filed appeals to the High Court of Justice of Andalusia, which heard the case in the second instance. The Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the ruling, considering that the defendant should not be convicted of two crimes against moral integrity as in this case there was no “deliberate intention” to “vilify, humiliate and objectify”45. Instead, the prosecution considered that the acts carried out by Quezada after the death of the minor were aimed at avoiding discovery, and would therefore fall under the heading of “unpunished self-discovery”. For its part, the public prosecution requested a retrial46, considering that the judge had influenced the jury to not deem that the child’s death had been committed with malice aforethought, as the expert evidence presented by the private prosecution, which asserted that the wounds on the body had been produced prematurely and that, therefore, there had been malice aforethought, had not been accredited. Meanwhile, the defence also requested the nullity of the trial and that it be repeated before a court and not before a popular jury. The defence based its request on the fact that the jury’s verdict was not sufficiently accounted for and on the influence that the extensive media impact of the case had had on the jury.
Given the appeals filed, the High Court of Justice of Andalusia heard the case and on 6 February 2020 handed down a new judgment which maintained the previous judgment almost in its entirety, but annulled the conviction for the crimes of mental injury, on the understanding that Quezada’s actions following the murder were aimed at avoiding discovery, and not at injuring the child’s parents. Following this ruling, the legal representation of the victim’s parents lodged a new appeal before the Supreme Court. Consequently, on 15 December 2020, the high court issued a new judgment, which ratified what had already been ruled by the High Court of Justice of Andalusia.
4. Disclosure of information
From the moment the child disappeared, the case received a great deal of media attention. The relatives of the child and those responsible for the search operation were interviewed on multiple occasions, and the Guardia Civil even allowed teams of journalists to accompany them during the process to report on the case. On 11 March, Ana Julia was arrested and the body of the child was found in the boot of the car she was driving, the arrest was recorded from a window by a neighbour, and the information was widely disseminated in the media, the authorities limited
themselves to confirming the information that was already public. However, on the 15th of March, with the case under secrecy of summary proceedings, the Guardia Civil held a press conference in which they narrated the search process and the investigations that led to the arrest of Ana Julia, during which the officer in charge stated that they suspected Ana Julia Quezada because they had seen that she had “a past in Burgos”. Although no further details about this “past” were given in the press conference, in the following weeks the press published that Quezada had worked as a prostitute in the early nineties and that one of her daughters had died in 1996 when she fell out of
a window. During this press conference, the Guardia Civil also revealed the results of the autopsy and details of the statement of the then detainee, such as that she had confessed to having killed the child and that she had indicated what she had done with the child’s clothes and body. When questioned by the press during the aforementioned press conference, one of the Guardia Civil commanders involved stated that they considered Ana Julia Quezada to be responsible for the murder of the minor, and defined her as a person “with economic ambition”, “extremely cold” and “quite manipulative”. This press conference was broadcast live by some media, including TVE, the Spanish public television service, which broadcast the press conference with a split screen while the other half of the screen showed images of Ana Julia Quezada, taken from both her social networks and recorded during the previous days.
After her arrest, the image of Ana Julia Quezada was widely disseminated by the media, both through photos and videos, without any kind of anonymisation, and various details about her private life were revealed. Her daughter was interviewed by some media, and even her relatives living in the Dominican Republic were interviewed.
The trial was held in open court, 35 media outlets and 130 journalists were allowed to attend. The number of journalists required the Provincial Court to set up a room in which the trial was broadcast live so that journalists could follow it from there. The recordings of the trial sessions were also sent to the press, who broadcast them to accompany their pieces or hosted them on websites or broadcasting channels.
5. Media coverage
From the arrest of the accused until the trial, many details about her identity and life (image, previous romantic life, occupations, nationality, etc.) were revealed. Officially, only the details mentioned at the press conference on 15 March 2018 and those mentioned at the trial were revealed. However, the press delved further and was also fed by leaks from the authorities involved in the investigation. At the press conference, a multitude of details about the events were also made public, such as the result of the autopsy, the cause of death, the circumstances surrounding
the crime and even the “psychological profile” of the detainee. All these issues were strongly reflected in the media, which examined the most “gruesome” details of the crime and the life of the accused, who after her arrest was treated in the media as a “confessed murderer” – despite the fact that she never confessed to the murder of the minor, but rather to her homicide.
As already noted, the death of Quezada’s daughter in 1996 was reported, sowing doubts about the accidental nature of the death, mentioning the existence of reports by the Guardia Civil that held her responsible and even interviewing another of her daughters. It was also made public that the accused had been a prostitute, compilations were made of her former romantic partners and relatives of her ex-partners were interviewed, who accused her of having taken advantage of them or of having only been with them for their money.
The fact that the defendant was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic was also widely commented on in the press. The non-governmental organisation, SOS Racismo, drew attention to how media coverage of the case could incite racism. Spain’s National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC) formally warned the country’s two main media groups, Atresmedia and Mediset, for inciting hatred during their coverage of the case. An academic study analysed the discourse related to the case on the twitter and Facebook profiles of four major Spanish media outlets (@telecincoes, @LaSextaNoticias, @noticias-cuatro and @A3Noticias) and was able to confirm both the existence of a parallel trial on social networks marked by xenophobia and racism, and the role of the media themselves in encouraging this type of discourse.
6. Impact on the suspect or accused person and on the general public
During the search for the child, the family made multiple appeals for solidarity and appeared in the press on numerous occasions. Rallies were even called in the family’s hometown, which later spread to other parts of Spain. During these public interventions, the victim’s mother commented on her son’s fondness for fish and that they affectionately called him “pescaito”, thus turning the drawing of a fish into a kind of symbol that was exhibited at rallies and used in different formats (such as T-shirts or avatars on social networks) as a sign of solidarity with the family. Once Quezada’s arrest became known, this “solidarity” turned into indignation and messages of repulsion, especially on social networks. The aforementioned study by Marta-Lazo et al. analysed the response on social networks to media reports and identified insults related to xenophobia in 28% of their sample and wishing for Quezada’s death in 12%63. A petition on the change.org platform requesting life imprisonment for Quezada reached 130,000 signatures in just one day and, in the same period of time – i.e. between 11 and 13 March 2018 – another petition calling for Ana Julia Quezada to be declared persona non grata in Spain and forced to serve her sentence in the Dominican Republic reached 190,000 signatures64. In the description of this second description, the following argument could be read:
“knowing that Spanish justice will prove to provide insufficient punishment and be too
complacent towards this murderer, even if she were to be sentenced to 150 years in prison
or life imprisonment, as she would be comfortable in any of Spain’s prisons,
That Ana Julia Quezada Cruz be claimed by the Department of Justice of the Dominican
Republic, where she is from, and be forced to serve life imprisonment in one of the prisons
of her country of origin for the alleged murder of little Gabriel Cruz Ramirez”.
As can be seen, there was significant social pressure for Ana Julia Quezada to be sentenced to life imprisonment. Taking into account the extensive media coverage of the case and the treatment it received by the media, it is legitimate to ask whether it is possible that the popular jury could have handed down a different verdict to the one it did. However, both the Court itself and the different bodies that have reviewed the case have considered that the jury’s verdict was sufficiently reasoned. The bodies other than the court that heard the case at first instance have also held that the facts considered proven in the first sentence are adequate, as is the sentence of permanent revisable imprisonment.
El Mundo, This is how ‘Operation Nemo’ ended with Ana Julia’s arrest, 15 March 2018.
Provincial Court of Almeria, Judgement 379/2019, 30 September.
Sos Racismo, Comunicat davant els fets derivats de l’assassinat de Gabriel Cruz, 16 March 2018.
La Sexta, ‘A black woman comes to Spain and takes Gabriel from us’: when machismo and racism take advantage of the case of Ana Julia Quezada, 14 March 2018.
Confilegal, La Fiscalía cree que se erró al condenar a Ana Julia Quezada por delitos contra integridad moral, 26 November 2019.
Confilegal, The mother of little Gabriel wants a retrial because the sentence did not recognise Overkill, 12 November 2019.
La Vanguardia, The hearing of appeals against Ana Julia’s conviction will take place on 29 January, 23 December 2019.
El País, La justicia confirma la prisión permanente revisable para Ana Julia Quezada, 6 February 2020.“
El País, The Supreme Court confirms the permanent re-examination prison sentence for Ana Julia Quezada, the murderer of Gabriel Cruz, 6 February 2020.
El País, We accompany the Guardia Civil in the search for Gabriel Cruz, 6 March 2018.
El español, Judit, the other victim that Ana Julia left in Burgos: ‘My mother never told me she loved Me, 8 July 2019.
El Independiente, Ana Julia Quezada is a person of “maximum coldness, according to the Guardia Civil, YouTube, 15 March 2018.
RTVE, Rueda de prensa de la Guardia Civil por la muerte de Gabriel Cruz (Video), 15 March 2018.
Antena 3, A sister of Ana Julia Quezada: “I ask forgiveness from my heart to Gabriel’s parents and to the Spanish people, 15 March 2018.
El País, La Fiscalía denuncia a un funcionario de prisiones por filtrar datos de la asesina de Gabriel, 23 December 2019.
El Independiente, ‘I covered his mouth and he was no longer breathing’: Ana Julia Quezada admits she killed the boy Gabriel, YouTube, 10 September 2019.
La Voz de Galicia, Ana Julia Quezada’s murky past in Burgos, 25 September 2018.“
El Diario, SOS Racismo calls for racist messages not to be spread in the media and networks after Gabriel’s death, 13 March 2018.
El Confidencial, Competencia carga contra las televisiones por el tratamiento del caso Gabriel, 3 August 2018.
Marta-Lazo, C.; Osuna-Acedo, S. & Gil-Quintana, J. (2020). The production of written discourse in social
networks regarding the disappearances of people and consequent parallel judgments. The case of Gabriel Cruz
(Spain) on Twitter and Facebook. Signos 53(103).
Antena 3, Indignation on social networks leads to a chain of petitions on Change.org following the death of Gabriel Cruz, 12 March 2018.
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