Family of Víctor Jara – Nicknamed the “Bob Dylan of Latin America” – Sees Justice Four Decades After Folk Singer’s Brutal Murder
A team of litigators from Chadbourne & Parke LLP secured a US$28 million verdict for the family of slain Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara, who was brutally murdered by military personnel in 1973. After eight days in court, a federal jury in Orlando, FL concluded that a former Chilean Army officer, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, was culpable for the torture and extrajudicial killing of Mr. Jara at the Chile Stadium, an indoor sports venue used as a mass detention center at the time. The stadium was renamed the Víctor Jara Stadium in 2004.
Defendant Pedro Pablo Barrientos, a naturalized US citizen who now lives in central Florida, was a key officer at the stadium. Mr. Jara – targeted due to his fame and political associations – was abused, tortured and shot more than 40 times in an underground locker room, by Mr. Barrientos and other soldiers at the stadium.
Mr. Jara’s family was represented in the case by Chadbourne, whose lawyers donated their time on a pro bono basis, together with the Center for Justice & Accountability, a legal nonprofit based in San Francisco. The family filed suit in 2013, claiming violations of the US Torture Victim Protection Act, which is designed to go after perpetrators of torture and extrajudicial killing who live in the US. A claim brought pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute was previously dismissed by the court.
“Forty-three years after his brutal killing, Víctor Jara’s memory and music remain an inspiration to people throughout South America and around the world,” said Mark Beckett, a partner at Chadbourne who led the team’s efforts on behalf of the Jara family. “Víctor Jara’s family has waited for more than four decades for the truth to be uncovered, and for justice to be served. Now that wait is finally over.”
Víctor Jara was a popular Chilean singer, songwriter, and political activist who was at the forefront of the “New Song” movement and who advocated for social change in Chile. Mr. Jara was detained on September 11, 1973, during the Chilean Army’s siege of the State Technical University, where he was a faculty member. From there, he and nearly 1,000 students, professors and other civilians were transferred from the University and imprisoned in Chile Stadium.
The legal team presented evidence through the videotaped depositions of Chilean soldiers regarding the Defendant’s presence and activities at the stadium. They also presented evidence that Barrientos had bragged repeatedly about shooting Victor Jara in the head. A forensic examination later revealed that Mr. Jara was shot in the head and body over 40 times. The team also presented testimony from witnesses about the torture and abuses they suffered and observed at the stadium during the four harrowing days that Mr. Jara was held there before he was killed.
The evidence showed that Barrientos was the second highest officer in the Second Company of the “Tejas Verdes” Regiment, a particularly notorious group within the Chilean Army then headed by Lt. Col. Manuel Contreras, who later became the head of the dreaded secret police organization, DINA, responsible for the torture, killing and disappearance of thousands of civilians. Barrientos later left Chile and became a US citizen after marrying a US national. His whereabouts in the US were discovered by a Chilean documentary team in 2012.
Mr. Jara’s widow and her two daughters, Manuela and Amanda, have sought justice since 1978 when they requested Chilean authorities investigate and prosecute those responsible for Mr. Jara’s torture and murder. While Barrientos and seven others were indicted in 2012 for the torture and murder of Mr. Jara, Barrientos has not yet been returned to face criminal charges in Chile. The government of Chile has requested that the US extradite him to stand trial.
The team from Chadbourne that represented the Jara family included partner Mark Beckett, senior associate Christian Urrutia, associate Adriana Ingenito, public international law fellow Amy Belsher and legal assistant Darayl Levy. The Chadbourne team worked on the case for more than three years, interviewing witnesses, taking depositions and diligently collecting evidence in both Chile and the United States. The project culminated in an eight-day jury trial at the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida, during which testimony from fifteen witnesses was presented, along with other documentary evidence. After deliberations, the jury concluded the evidence was sufficient to establish that Barrientos was responsible for the torture and extra-judicial killing of Victor Jara, and awarded US$28 million to his family.
Chadbourne’s pro bono initiative is widely recognized as one of the best public service legal programs among US law firms. During the past year, the firm was named as one of Law360’s “Pro Bono Firms of the Year” and was included in The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List” in 2016.
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