A Day In Court

Merida Penitentiary


Merida Penitentiary. Courtrooms are inside.

I went to the Seventh Court today with my friend Vanessa the lawyer. We listened to several interesting cases, one of which Vanessa was working.
Domestic Violence ………………………..We were there with three women she was representing in a case against an abusive male relative.
The women are from a pueblo. “Alma” and her two adult daughters are having a serious problem. This was the third home invasion this guy had done, and this time he broke the glass in the windows, the door and a cabinet. He actually bent her iron door frame so badly that the door can’t be locked.

Vanessa pointed out that this incident was the defendant’s third attack on Alma’s home. Early this month, he broke in, destroyed property and assaulted one of the adult daughters who was there with her young child. He threatened to rape and kill both of them. The other daughter came and he beat her also, and then Alma came home from church to find mayhem and the police. The police took a cursory report and the case had been treated lightly until Vanessa got ahold of it. Unfortunately, things had already been put in motion for the bad guy to be able to get bailed out, so that may happen.

The bad guy, Julian, is Alma’s brother-in-law. Alma is a widow. Her abusive husband, Julian’s brother, died about twenty years ago when he got drunk and fell into the community well. No one was devastated. Unfortunately, at the time her husband died, Alma and her four young daughters lived in a house with him, his brother and his father, all whom were nasty alcoholics. It took her about a year to get out of there and move into her own house and during that time Julian assaulted her regularly.

L1030516_edited-1The Evil Julian

Alma’s new house is only about one hundred yards from Julian and his father. So Julian made it a habit to terrorize Alma and her daughters and grandchildren. All the women have been nervous and terrified for years. After this latest assault, Alma’s grand-daughter, who is six, needed professional counseling. She still has trouble sleeping.

Domestic assault cases are treated lightly in the villages and the police report lacked bite. Julian was charged with the equivalent of a misdemeanor.

Vanessa has been helping this family free of charge. She has spent many hours preparing statements, talking to witnesses, and sitting and waiting in court. The victims are grateful beyond words. Did you know there is no Maya word for Thank You? The closest translation for the term they use is, God Pays.

Anyway, we were in court yesterday for hours, mostly waiting. Finally, Julian was brought to the lockup area facing the office and we all gathered close to the window along with a court clerk who read the charges to him. He denied everything. The Seventh court judge, Rubi Gonzales Alpuche, approached our area and spoked to the defendant. She obviously wished there was more she could do, and said that if he ever approaches any of those women again, she will make sure he is locked up for a very long time. She asked him whether he had anything to say to them and he said no. He had no expression on his face.


Court clerk at computer

The three victims took their seats at the window one by one, talking to the clerk who transcribed their words. At no time did any of them make eye contact with the defendant. They were scared to death, but brave and determined.

I think things have come a long way here, as they have in the USA. In both places, twenty years ago, a case like this would merit scant attention. Today things are different. The judge was dynamite. Impressive and brilliant.

I’d always thought that the criminal justice system here lent itself to corruption since the judge has so much power (no jury trials, just lawyers and witnesses). And there may some corruption, but I’d bet it doesn’t happen in the court of the Hon. Rubi Gonzales Alpuche.

I was impressed to see that there is a public defense legal mechanism in place here. Indigent defendants are assigned attorneys, many of whom Vanessa says are excellent.

The Cuban Show

The setup of the courts is that each one has a large central area for the clerks and then there are four interview windows to the jail area, with workstations on the courtroom side. There are no barriers between the work areas, and most of the participants are standing, including the judge.

So not only could we hear the case at the next area, we were pretty much in it. At one point, we moved further away, but it didn’t matter.

There was a loud confrontation going on between a defendant, Roberto Rebasso Fumero, and the wife of his accuser. Her name was Marielys Arenciba. Both of them were outstandingly handsome people, especially Marielys. She was slender and sultry, with waist-length full black hair, porcelain white skin, skillful make-up, long graceful legs and gorgeous clothes and shoes. Roberto was middle aged but fit, with salt and pepper hair and interesting, unusual clothing. He was a hunk. They hated each other.


Apparently Roberto stole a car from Marielys’ husband. They are all expat Cubans from Miami and Roberto somehow got the car to Yucatan where he  sold it. Marielys had a lot of documentation and Roberto had none. The best he could do was show the judge a photo of four people at the beach, claiming that it was him, his cousin, “A very famous singer,” and Marielys’ husband. They were having a good time and his point was that the picture was taken after the so-called theft. He said he had given the money to the husband and that everything was fine. The judge quietly pointed out that there was no date stamp on the photo. He was very indignant.

Roberto was so angry he was shaking and on the verge of tears. It was quite an act. Marielys didn’t say much for a long time, but when she did, she stood up and leaned over him, gesturing and shouting in fast Cuban Spanish that I don’t think anyone from Merida could understand. Her voice was a surprise. She is a petite woman, and her voice was a deep and smoky baritone. She pounded on the table. It was wonderful.

No one else in the Seventh Court even tried to make a pretense of doing other work after a certain point. A crowd had gathered around the confrontation. It was spectacular not only because of the handsome participants, but because such shouting and confrontation is so bizarre in a civilized courtroom, which this was.  The judge handled things elegantly.


The judge hearing all sides

This case has been going on and apparently there is more to it. Roberto, in his excitement, accused Marielys’ husband of murdering someone in Florida and said the case is in court.

Roberto’s nearly six-foot-tall wife, who looked like a dancer and was dressed completely in chartreuse, was furious.

There was a good-sized entourage and the media was there – at least one TV station and the newspapers. If you are curious, you can go online to the El Diario website (www.yucatan.com.mx)  and enter Rabassa in the search box.

L1030513_edited-1Footwear, Judge on left, Marielysa on right

Thoughts on the Criminal Justice System

The law is a wonderful thing. There is this ultra-detailed set of rules and case histories and whatever happens goes through a process to see which side meshes or doesn’t mesh with whichever side of the law. If you look at these two cases, which are similar in emotional intensity to most other court cases (as that is the nature of the beast) they were both being skillfully funelled through the narrow channel of the criminal justice system.


Files everywhere.

For all the emotion, for all the intensity of each side seeing themselves as justified and in the right, it all is reduced to a cool, exacting process that will establish guilt or innocence and assess penalties. This applies to any kind of well worked out legal system, including the Napoleonic system in use here in Mexico.


Campesino waiting for court

The judge in this courtroom was impressive. She allowed everyone to express themselves, but didn’t allow things to go to far. I think she gave extra leeway to the Cubans for a number of reasons, but when Roberto actually challenged her, she firmly shut him down. She ignored him and calmly dictated her interpretations to the court clerk and let the guy rage for a few minutes. She was in total control of her court.

All these emotions, all these feelings of being grievously injured or misunderstood, were boiled down to clean facts and held against the standard of what is legal and what is not in this society.

Drug Dogs

When we left, there were about a dozen police officers and a Commander at the visitors’ entrance to the jail. They had six Belgian Shepherd drug dogs on impressive collars and leashes.  We were advised not to touch them, but were allowed to admire and photograph.


Drug dog at prison

And by the way, the officers were carrying the new Remington R-15 semi-automatic rifles and the latest Italian Beretta semi-automatic hand guns, the Model 92.


Wildlife in court

Update: January 16 2010

I read in the paper yesterday that Roberto the accused had been released from jail, where he had apparently been since November 22. The explanation given was that no witnesses showed up for the latest hearing. I hope that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of The Cuban Reality Show.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in General Blog, Merida Expat Life. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Day In Court

  1. richard pauli says:

    Wonderful report.

    I especially liked the photographs. Impressed that you could take pics in the courtroom or jail. It can be hard to take pics when you are the only photographer in an important event. But sometimes the presence of the camera lends the scene historical importance – and all parties know the importance of that. And you might be able to join with other established press in taking pictures, bloggers have a increasing amount of respect and often get press credentials… you certainly deserve it.

    More please.

  2. bg says:

    Actually, I don’t think I was supposed to take photos and was pretty discreet about it which is why I didn’t get better pics of The Cuban Reality Show, as it is being called here in the press.

  3. Vicki Siedow says:

    A fascinating account. It’s so interesting to learn and compare the court procedures of the various countries. It’s also interesting that female judges are so in control in that culture, and yet the continued, extreme assault on your clients was tolerated. I was surprised you got so many photos. Thanks for the eye opening.

  4. Judy Fink says:

    This is a great site….love the pictures and loved the article….what a great read, thank you!!!!!Have lived in Mexico 10 years and still want to know more…..this is it!

  5. Mario Arredndo says:

    Outstanding report. Congratulations, Beryl! To my knowledge, there was though a minor misunderstanding in that Roberto Fumero accused Marielys’s husband of having committed a murder back in the States. It was the other way around. It was Marielys who claimed that the other party( Roberto) was a murderer. He countered, though, that this accusation has been checked by the Mexican authorities who have cleared him of any guilt.

    If interested, I should be glad to report a recent case were a local lawyer rescued me from being a fraud victim.



  6. bg says:

    Why don’t you write up your experience and we can post it on this site as an article? Thanks.

  7. Leila says:

    Oh, please, do you have a picture of Roberto’s wife in her chartreuse outfit?

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