Asetre vs Asetre (GR No. 171536 April 7, 2009)

Asetre vs Asetre
GR No. 171536 April 7, 2009

Facts: On December 27, 2000, Hanz Dietrich Asetre was found dead on his residence, which also housed his printing press business. He was 26 years old. Petitioner, April Joy Asetre, Hanz’s wife, alleged that her husband committed suicide by hanging himself using bed covers. She said Hanz was deppressed, suicidal, a drug dependent, an alcoholic and evident even before they got married. She also claimed that when Hanz got high on drugs and alcohol, he would break things. When his mother had cancer, he became desperate, losing his concentration in work as well as lacking sleep at night then, after her mother died of cancer, he started writing letters expressing his desire to follow his mother. He also became depressed because they were left with huge debts and he had to assume payments. It was recommended that Hanz under rehabilitation in Cebu City, but he stayed there for only two weeks. However, respondent Junel Astre, Hanz’s brother claimed that the marks on Hanz’s neck was not that of bed spreads but of rope. He claimed that petitioner Buenaventura Gamboa know who killed Hanz but was reluctant to divulge it lest he be charged on harmed by April’s father. In a resolution dated October 3, 2001, the office of the city prosecutor of Bacolod found probable cause against April, Hanz’s first cousin, Galinzehel and Buenaventura Gamboa, and printing press worker Benjie Ebcas. The investigating prosecutor held that from the evidence adduced by the parties, herein petitioner were physically and actively moreover from actuations of petitioners and the events that took place, it can be gleaned that they connived in killing Hanz and later tried to cover up the crime. Further the prosecutor rejected petitioner suicide theory because it is inconsistent with the medico legal findings that while Hanz might have wanted to end his life, the circumstances of his death proved he could not have done it himself. The prosecutor explained that the possibility of murder is not negated even if Hanz sustained no wounds or injuries, since he had been drinking shortly before his death which could have rendered him too drunk to be aware that he was being strangled. Thus, prosecutor recommended that murder charges under article 248 of the revised penal code be filed against Ebcas and the Gamboa and parricide against April.

Issue: Whether or not the prosecution’s reliance on the testimonies of the medico-legal officer is proper.

Held: No. Dr. Samson Gonzaga, the private physician who signed the death certificate, and Dr. Luis Gamboa, the medico-legal officer of Bacolod City who conducted the post mortem autopsy on Hanz’s body, are not expert witnesses, nor were they offered to testify as medico-legal experts. Dr. Nicasio Botin, medico-legal officer, NBI Iloilo City, who prepared the exumeration report is also not a forensic expert. They never opined that it was improbable for the deceased to have committed suicide. The death certificate signed by Dr. Gonzaga indicated asphyxia secondary to strangulation as the cause of death, without explaining whether it was suicide or not. It pointed to depression as antecedent cause, implying that Hanz committed suicide. Thus, the appellate court lacks sufficient basis to conclude that it was improbable for Hanz to commit suicide based on the opinions of of the three doctors.

All circumstances considered, we find that DOC secretary correctly held that circumstantial evidence presented by private respondents to prove probable cause against petitioner, does not support the theory of conspiracy to commit murder. Such circumstantial evidence in our view, would not sufficiently warrant a conclusion that private respondents are responsible for the death of Hanz. Petitioners mere presence at the death scene, without more, does not suffice to establish probable cause against them. It is noteworthy that complainants failed to establish conclusively that April, Hanz cousin and his workers had an ax to grind against Hanz. The alleged quarrel of the couple the night before the incident is a hearsay and could not establish enough credible motive on the part of April; contrary to the opinion of the investigating prosecutor, because the same witness who testified about the alleged fight also stated that the couple had a good relationship and that it was unusual for the couple to have verbal altercations occasionally. Equally worth stressing is the positive proof that the accused were not the only person present inside the couple’s house; and that the door of the gate of the house, including the door of the room where the victim was found hanging were not so well observed as to exclude the possibility that the act was committed by other person who were then also present in the house or even intruders. April was not attempting to reduce the number of possible witness as stated by the investigating prosecutor when she sent her children to Iloilo as it was then victim’s decision to send their children to Iloilo upon his cousin’s invitation.

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