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Gov’t to appeal Strunk extradition’s dismissal

- Marichu A. Villanueva1, Cecille Suerte Felipe () - November 15, 2003 - 12:00am
President Arroyo reassured the family of murdered actress Nida Blanca yesterday that the government has taken steps to appeal a United States court dismissal of the government’s request for the extradition of Blanca’s American husband, Roger Lawrence "Rod" Strunk.

Strunk was charged with Blanca’s murder. He flew to the US on Jan. 10, 2002 to attend his mother’s funeral but did not return to face the charges against him despite having submitted an undertaking stating that he would return.

The President reassured Blanca’s family that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working to appeal the ruling of the California District Court on the Philippine government’s request for Strunk’s extradition to face the murder charges against him.

"The DOJ is already moving to appeal the case and we must be persistent in seeking justice for all concerned," she said.

Blanca’s daughter, Kaye Torres, earlier bewailed the DOJ’s failure to secure Strunk’s extradition. Strunk is suspected of masterminding Blanca’s murder on Nov. 7, 2001 at a condominium in Greenhills, San Juan.

US magistrate Gregory Hollows rejected Wednesday the DOJ request for Strunk’s extradition for lack of probable cause.

Hollows cited inconsistencies in evidence filed by the DOJ before the California court, saying the evidence was "so inconsistent and conflicting that it provides little competent evidence to support the conclusion that Strunk hired (Philip) Medel to murder Blanca."

While the Philippines is not required to submit all case evidence against the extraditee with a request for extradition, Hollows said the lack of probable cause connecting Strunk to the crime is highlighted by the fact that corroborating evidence that could have bolstered the case against the accused is missing.

"It appears from this record that Strunk had little to gain and much to lose from the murder," Hollows said.

He also said, "All desire that the totality of persons involved in that murder be brought to justice. This decision does not say that the Philippines could never make a case against Strunk should new, competent evidence be submitted."
‘All Is Not Lost’


"The DOJ did everything they could," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. "The ruling was really disappointing. But all is not lost."

"It is not fair to blame the DOJ, because they did what process required them to do to bring Strunk to our jurisdiction," he said.

Bunye, who is a lawyer, said the government will continue to work to get justice for Blanca. He added that Philip Medel Jr., who said he was hired by Strunk to kill Blanca, is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and is on trial for the murder case.

"One option is to pursue the case against Medel because we have jurisdiction over his person," Bunye said over the government-run Radyo ng Bayan. "Let’s get the maximum from what we have right now."

Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong told Radyo ng Bayan that Hollows’ denial of the extradition request "does not mean the US court believes that Strunk is not guilty."

Datumanong added that "only the courts of the Philippines can decide on that because only Philippine courts have jurisdiction over this case."

Blanca, Dorothy Jones in real life, was found stabbed dead inside her car at the underground parking lot of the Atlanta Centre in Greenhills on Nov. 7, 2001. She was 65.

NBI Director Reynaldo Wycoco said Torres should blame the US court that dismissed the extradition request.

Hollows’ decision was contrary to an earlier US court ruling, which found probable cause and issued an warrant for Strunk’s arrest. US marshals took custody of Strunk on May 13 in Tracy, California.

The NBI investigated the Blanca killing and filed murder charges against Strunk and Medel.

Wycoco also questioned the actions of Torres’ legal counsel, former justice Harriet Demetriou. Demetriou vowed to present to media documents that could have convinced the US court to extradite Strunk. She said these documents were suppressed by the NBI and the DOJ.

"Being Kaye’s (Torres) legal counsel, (Demetriou) should have presented them to the (US) court herself," Wycoco said. He also said the NBI, DOJ and Torres all have a common objective — that of giving justice to Blanca.

Furious over criticisms that the DOJ mishandled the extradition request, Justice Undersecretary Merceditas Gutierrez vowed to pursue all legal means to get Strunk back in Manila to face the murder charges against him. — With Aurea Calica

ALL IS NOT LOST ATLANTA CENTRE BAYAN BLANCA COURT DOJ EXTRADITION JUSTICE MURDER STRUNK
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