A man accused of planting a bomb at a police checkpoint in Chile last February was absolved of the crime for the second time Thursday.
Victor Hugo Montoya, 24, walked out of a courtroom after a judge read a final verdict declaring him innocent of any wrongdoing related to the February 9, 2013 bombing at the Las Vizcachas checkpoint in Puente Alto, Santiago.
Montoya was first arrested on the night of the bombing and charged under Chile's controversial anti-terrorist law for his alleged involvement in the placement of the explosive device that left one policeman injured. He spent 16 months in jail before he was released in June and cleared of all charges.
He was re-arrested and his case sent back to trial in September just days after an attack at a subway station shopping mall that left 14 people injured, part of a recent wave of bombings that have rattled Chile.
An appeals court asked the judge to reconsider Montoya's case, requesting that he appear for yet another oral trial to face the same charges, which could have sent him back to jail for six years.
"The evidence they collected was a joke," Montoya said as he exited the courtroom Thursday. "I am an innocent person, and free. Here, they are not releasing a terrorist, I am a person who has spent 16 months as a prisoner."
In what essentially amounted to double jeopardy, Montoya faced the same charges on which he had already been acquitted. Prosecutors relied on testimony from an anonymous protected witness, but the evidence again was deemed insufficient to convict Montoya.
"This time has been terrible, the emotional strain, but [I] had faith and hope. Let me tell you, I am an innocent person, and free," Montoya said. "Here, they are not releasing a terrorist, I am a person who has spent 16 months as a prisoner."
Montoya was notified that he had to face a new trial on September 10, just two short days after the latest subway bombing — and the day before the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile. A VICE news team spoke to Montoya at his home in Santiago on September 13, where he explained that he felt he was targeted due to his personal beliefs and alternative lifestyle.
He said he was persecuted for his non-conformism, his vegan diet, and the fact that he is straight-edge — all traits that he feels were misinterpreted by the Chilean government in its efforts to satisfy public demand for a successful terrorism conviction.
The latest decision is final and irreversible, which means that Montoya can finally return to his normal life, and cannot be tried again, his lawyer, Rodrigo Roman, told VICE News.
"The prosecution presented close to 55 pieces of evidence, all of them were rejected, because the tribunal indicated that these were just speculative. It goes without saying, they did not demonstrate Victor's direct participation in these acts. Additionally, they found that the witnesses' testimony was conflicting," Roman said.
"We will be filing a criminal lawsuit against the witnesses that participated, for fabricated testimony, and additionally we will be filing a civil suit against the Chilean government for the 16 months that Victor had to spend in jail," the attorney added. "We suspect the prosecution planned the testimonies to implicate Victor."
Roman said Victor's case shows the weaknesses and illegitimacy of Chile's anti-terrorist law.
"In the past years the prosecution has been defeated six times in cases related to the placing of bombs and the anti-terrorist law. It is time to reconsider whether or not they are doing a good job," he said.
Follow Nicolás Ríos on Twitter @nicorios.