If there were a list of ways to show your mother how much you truly love her, busting her out of prison would certainly be near the top.
That’s exactly what influencer Aída Victoria Merlano Manzanero went on trial for this week.
Prosecutors said the 21-year-old played a crucial role in helping her mother, a former Colombian senator, climb out of a third-story window and descend by rope to the street in full view of astonished bystanders.
After the October 2019 escape in Bogota, suspicion quickly fell on the daughter, who is known as Aída Victoria. She was charged four months later but has remained free on bail and used her time to keep busy, posting images to her millions of followers on social media.
Aída Victoria’s mother, Aída Merlano Rebolledo, bolted custody just weeks after being convicted for election crimes in a daring escape that captured the attention of the South American nation.
Her downfall came after a rapid political rise, becoming a senator at the age of only 38. But following her 2019 election win, authorities quickly found campaign irregularities and discovered evidence of voter fraud, corruption, and illegal possession of weapons. Within six months of her victory, the senator was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in a Bogota prison. She escaped just over two weeks later.
An appointment with a dentist provided the opportunity. She was accompanied to the dentist’s office outside the penitentiary by a prison guard and driver. But the guard allowed her to go into the dentist’s examination room alone and remained outside in the waiting area. Trial evidence showed that the dentist then left Merlano Rebolledo alone, giving her time to escape by tying a rope to a table and descending out the window.
Authorities showed video footage from outside of a hanging red cord and stunned onlookers watching as Merlano Rebolledo apparently climbed down. Suddenly, she pops into the frame dressed in all white and hands the red cord to one of the pedestrians watching confusedly. She then hops on the back of a motorcycle driven by a man posing as a Rappi driver, puts on a helmet, and disappears.
Merlano Rebolledo's escape became international news and Aída Victoria quickly cashed in, posing nude on the cover of a magazine, handcuffed, with the tagline “The Daughter of the Fugitive Congresswoman Confesses.” But after three months on the lam, her mother was caught in neighboring Venezuela in January 2020.
It was not long before prosecutors turned their attention to Aída Victoria, and the dentist, Javier Cely Barajas, as potential accomplices. In February 2020, Colombian authorities officially charged the two as being “instrumental” in the escape.
As she awaited her trial, Aída Victoria posted numerous photos and videos of herself with luxury cars, riding a pink inflatable swan, and promoting sex toys to her 2.5 million Instagram followers.
Aída Victoria and Cely Barajas both pleaded innocent when their trial began on Tuesday this week. Both could face long prison sentences if found guilty.
The prosecutor alleged that when Merlano Rebolledo left prison the day of the escape she didn’t have the tools she needed to break out of the dentist’s office, according to local media. Aída Victoria was at the dental office that day and “facilitated” the escape and gave her mother a cell phone, prosecutors said.
In the original February 2020 charges, authorities claimed she organized the motorcycle waiting outside, although it's unclear whether that allegation will come up in the trial.
The influencer also allegedly involved her underage brother in the escape plan. One of the trial’s first witnesses was a prison guard who accompanied Merlano Rebolledo to the dentist’s appointment. The guard alleged that when they arrived at the dentist’s office, Aída Victoria and her younger brother were already there. Merlano Rebolledo allegedly made a scene until the children were allowed to visit her inside the examination room while the guard waited outside.
The prosecutor said that it was unclear who brought the rope into the room, but noted that the brother wore a black backpack that was not searched. The dentist reportedly then came out of the examination room with the backpack, according to the guard. Merlano Rebolledo’s two children then exited the room and began talking to the guard for several minutes while their mother remained alone inside.
The guard alleged on the witness stand that she began to feel that something was amiss because the door was closed.
“I went to the door and opened it and Merlano Rebolledo was no longer in the office and the red rope was hanging from the window," she reportedly testified.
Aída Victoria took to Instagram on Wednesday to discuss her state of mind regarding the trial, with a preface that she was unable to discuss specifics of the case.
“Despite getting up every day knowing that I can go to jail for 21 years, I am happy because I have the conviction that happiness is a decision that one makes every day,” she said in a video posted on Instagram. “Be happy today because you do not know what will happen tomorrow.”