Murder retrial of Salvadoran woman over stillborn son to continue

CIUDAD DELGADO, El Salvador (Reuters) - The retrial of a Salvadoran woman convicted of aggravated homicide after a stillbirth adjourned without a verdict on Thursday, in a closely watched case that could overturn a 30-year prison sentence handed down after prosecutors said she had induced an abortion.

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El Salvador bans abortion in all circumstances.

The judge ordered a recess Thursday afternoon after a witness for the prosecution failed to appear.

“I only wish to tell you that I am an innocent girl. I have always told you that I am innocent,” the defendant Evelyn Hernandez, 21, told reporters as she entered the court.

As she left the courthouse she told a small mob of reporters that she is “expecting justice” and praying that on Friday she will be exonerated.

Bertha de Leon, Hernandez’s lawyer, said the prosecution has failed to prove that her client “wanted to kill the newborn, but instead it was a complicated birth.”

In February, the Supreme Court had ordered Hernandez released and retried because the original judge’s decision was based on prejudice and insufficient evidence.

Hernandez has served three years of the three-decade sentence that was handed down. Hernandez had said that she was unaware of her pregnancy when she delivered a stillborn son in 2016.

She again stated her innocence in the retrial, which began in mid-July but went on recess due to the illness of a witness. Hernandez, a domestic worker who was studying to be a nurse, has said she was impregnated after being raped by a gang member.

“My goals are to keep studying, and I only ask the prosecution to think things through because I am really innocent,” Hernandez said in a steady voice. “Also, to the judge, I know that he will do justice. God willing, all will end well.”

Any intentional termination of a pregnancy in El Salvador can be prosecuted as a crime, including stillbirths due to home delivery or abortions induced because of medical emergencies.

Some 147 Salvadoran women were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.

Hernandez’s retrial is the first such case to be heard under President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June and has supported the right to abortion when a woman’s life is at risk.

The retrial is set to resume Friday at 9 a.m. (1500 GMT).

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler