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Puerto Rico jury convicts 'black widow' in slaying of former Winnipegger

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2018 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- A jury on Wednesday found the widow of Winnipeg-born Adam Anhang guilty of plotting his murder in a sensational kill-for-hire case that seized the imagination of residents of this island for more than a decade.

"We’re all relieved," Abe Anhang, the victim’s 80-year-old father, said after the verdict against Aurea Vazquez-Rijos was handed down. "We’ve been waiting for this day for 14 years."

The elder Anhang has been pursuing those responsible for his son’s death since 2005, when Adam Anhang was found bludgeoned and stabbed on an Old San Juan street. Adam Anhang was a real estate developer involved in a number of hotel and resort projects.

"My son would be 45 years of age today. And if he had lived he could have been one of the people who would help your economy forward. And that’s the tragedy of it all for all of us."

The jury deliberated 10 hours before reaching its verdict against Vazquez-Rijos and two co-conspirators, her sister Marcia and boyfriend Jose Ferrer Sosa. They promised a hit man $3 million to kill Anhang and make it look like a robbery. His wife was by his side during the midnight attack, but she did not scream for help, flee or try to stop the killer.

Aurea Vazquez Rijos (Carlos Giusti/El Vocero via AP)</p>

Aurea Vazquez Rijos (Carlos Giusti/El Vocero via AP)

She was worried that an impending divorce would cut her off from Anhang’s multi-million-dollar estate.

When the verdict was announced Wednesday, Vazquez-Rijos, a one-time beauty contestant, took two deep breaths but otherwise stared fixedly ahead. Marcia Vazquez-Rijos dissolved in tears. And Ferrer Sosa looked quizzically at his defence lawyer.

All three face a maximum of life imprisonment. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2019.

As he left the courthouse, Abe Anhang walked into a crush of local media, and he said he always felt that Vazquez-Rijos was guilty. "I was never uncertain about that," he said.

However, there were many diversions on the road to today’s verdict, and Anhang was involved in most of them. He once told an American interviewer: "Whoever did this, did they ever think I wouldn’t come after them?"

In 2007, a jury convicted a 22-year-old dishwasher, Jonathan Roman, for the killing and sentenced him to 105 years in prison. But Abe Anhang knew something was wrong. For one thing, prosecutors never established a motive for Roman to kill Adam. And there was another matter: while reviewing his son’s telephone bills, Abe noticed a flurry of telephone calls that Vazquez-Rijos had made in the hours before Adam’s death.

Adam Anhang

CNS

Adam Anhang

He flew to San Juan and met with the FBI director there, convincing him to have the agency open a new investigation. And in 2008, police made a major breakthrough: they arrested the real killer, drug dealer Alex "El Loco" Pabon. Pabon made a deal with authorities for a reduced sentence, and in return he confessed that he’d been hired by Vazquez-Rijos, her sister and Ferrer Sosa to kill "the Canadian" and make it look like a robbery. Authorities released Roman, and issued a conspiracy indictment against the trio.

But it was too late to catch the main plotter, the widow. Vazquez-Rijos was in Italy, looking for sanctuary from extradition. She met a man, and in what prosecutors believe was part of a long-term plan, gave birth to twin daughters. She was hoping that Italian police would never arrest a widow with two young girls.

That led to another intervention by the elder Anhang. He had hired an Italian detective to track her movements. Now he flew to Florence, where Vazquez-Rijos was living under the care of that city’s small Jewish community, and he told community leaders all about the evidence pointing to her guilt. Anhang also met with Italian journalists, and newspaper stories began appearing about the "Black Widow."

Vazquez-Rijos, working as a travel agent, was feeling the heat. At her trial, she said she felt "persecuted and scared"—presumably by Anhang’s determination to bring her to justice. So she started looking for other means of escape. She contacted a high-profile Israeli lawyer and inquired about Israel’s extradition laws.

Her flight from justice ended in 2013, when Vazquez-Rijos was arrested in Spain in an FBI sting operation. The Spanish government agreed to her extradition in 2015 when U.S. authorities agreed not to seek the death penalty in her case. She was brought back to Puerto Rico for trial.

For Abe Anhang, an end to his long pursuit came on Wednesday.

city.desk@freepress.mb.ca

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