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Widow of Winnipeg businessman solicited hit man, court hears

Aurea Vazquez-Rijos cried in court Tuesday watching a video of her husband, Adam Anhang, slumped over in a pool of blood. She is accused of ordering his murder. (Carlos Giusti / El Vocero Files)</p>

Aurea Vazquez-Rijos cried in court Tuesday watching a video of her husband, Adam Anhang, slumped over in a pool of blood. She is accused of ordering his murder. (Carlos Giusti / El Vocero Files)

SAN JUAN — The widow of Winnipeg native Adam Anhang cried Tuesday, hands covering her face, as a jury saw explicit video of Anhang’s body slumped in a pool of blood on a dark San Juan street. She is accused of masterminding the killing.

It was a moment of courtroom drama as both the defendant, Aurea Vazquez-Rijos, and the father of the victim, Abe Anhang, watched evidence of the crime on Sept. 23, 2005. The victim was stabbed in the neck and torso with a kitchen knife and beaten with a cobblestone, left for dead on a street in Old San Juan.

Police first treated it as a botched robbery. Vazquez-Rijos, who was with her husband during the attack, was herself taken to hospital with minor injuries. She refused to talk with police.

The video shown to the court Tuesday was so stark that Judge Daniel Dominguez ordered prosecutors to show only brief portions. “If it becomes too difficult (to watch), I will stop the video,” he said, doing just that when the camera zoomed in on a wide gash in Anhang’s neck.

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SAN JUAN — The widow of Winnipeg native Adam Anhang cried Tuesday, hands covering her face, as a jury saw explicit video of Anhang’s body slumped in a pool of blood on a dark San Juan street. She is accused of masterminding the killing.

It was a moment of courtroom drama as both the defendant, Aurea Vazquez-Rijos, and the father of the victim, Abe Anhang, watched evidence of the crime on Sept. 23, 2005. The victim was stabbed in the neck and torso with a kitchen knife and beaten with a cobblestone, left for dead on a street in Old San Juan.

Winnipegger Adam Anhang was stabbed, beaten and left for dead on a street in Old San Juan in 2005. (Family handout)</p>

Winnipegger Adam Anhang was stabbed, beaten and left for dead on a street in Old San Juan in 2005. (Family handout)

Police first treated it as a botched robbery. Vazquez-Rijos, who was with her husband during the attack, was herself taken to hospital with minor injuries. She refused to talk with police.

The video shown to the court Tuesday was so stark that Judge Daniel Dominguez ordered prosecutors to show only brief portions. "If it becomes too difficult (to watch), I will stop the video," he said, doing just that when the camera zoomed in on a wide gash in Anhang’s neck.

What made Tuesday’s courtroom scene even more compelling was that, only minutes before, a prosecution witness testified that Vazquez-Rijos asked him, nine months before the murder, if he knew a hit man.

"I took it with a grain of salt," Alexis Garcia said. She asked him the same question again in the summer of 2005, and he told her he didn’t know one. Garcia and the accused had a brief sexual relationship while she was dating Anhang.

"What did you understand by a hit man?" asked prosecuting attorney Jennifer Hernandez.

"A hit man is somebody you pay to kill somebody," Garcia said.

Garcia admitted he did not mention the incident to authorities until the FBI contacted him in 2014, nine years later.

"I was very afraid of what would happen (if I went to police). In time the FBI would get involved and I would be in good hands," he said.

Garcia, a restaurant owner, also said that Vazquez-Rijos asked him for a $25,000 loan in the summer of 2005, a loan she didn’t want Anhang to know about. He refused.

Claude Adams / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The trial of Aurea Vazquez-Rijos is being held in the federal courthouse of Old San Juan. It began on Aug. 30.</p>

Claude Adams / Winnipeg Free Press

The trial of Aurea Vazquez-Rijos is being held in the federal courthouse of Old San Juan. It began on Aug. 30.

The man who has already confessed to killing Anhang, an underworld figure named Alex Pabon, says he was offered $3 million to make the hit. He says the offer came from Vazquez-Rijos, her sister Marcia, and Marcia’s boyfriend at the time. The money was never paid.

Garcia was the second witness in the trial who has testified that Vazquez-Rijos had expressed interest in finding a contract killer. Last week, lawyer Edwin Prado, who drew up the couple’s pre-nuptial agreement, said she raised the issue with him in the summer of 2005.

"You’re crazy," Prado told her when she asked if he could recommend somebody, "I don’t know those kind of people."

In the days after the murder, the police investigation was hampered by confusion over conflicting eyewitness accounts about the identity of the killer.

Homicide detective Jose Miranda told the court that Vazquez-Rijos described the attacker as being tall and dark, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, with tattoos on both forearms.

However, three other eyewitnesses said the assailant was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. This confusion eventually resulted in the arrest of Jonathan Roman, a restaurant worker whose face was picked from a lineup of nine men. A jury eventually convicted Roman of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Vazquez-Rijos did not testify in his defence, since she had already fled the country and taken up residence in Italy.

Roman was released from prison in 2008 when the real killer, Alex Pabon, confessed to the murder. Roman received a financial settlement and left Puerto Rico.

The trial previously heard from a marriage counsellor who said she first met with Anhang in September 2005, and it was clear that the six-month-old marriage was falling apart. Anhang was "distressed" about the fact that his family did not know he was married, that he and Aurea were quarrelling about money, that she hadn’t fulfilled her promise to convert to Judaism and that he was unhappy with the terms of their pre-nuptial agreement. Under the agreement, she would receive $8 million of his $24 million estate in the event of his death.

city.desk@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 6:39 AM CDT: Final

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