Venezuela court gives long sentences to beauty queen's killers

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2014 8:26 PM

CARACAS (Reuters) - Three men convicted of murdering a former Miss Venezuela and her ex-husband this year were sentenced to at least 24 years in jail in a case that shook the crime-ridden South American nation, authorities said.

Monica Spear, 29, a soap opera actress, and Thomas Berry, 39, died after being attacked when their car broke down at night on a highway in central Venezuela in January.

The 2004 Miss Venezuela winner lived in the United States but was vacationing in her homeland at the time. The pair's 5-year-old daughter survived but took a bullet in her leg.

Three men confessed to their involvement in the murder, the public prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Jean Carlos Colina, 19, got a 26-year sentence, while Jose Ferreira Herrera, 18 and Nelfrend Jimenez Alvarez, 21, were jailed for 24 years, the statement said. Four other men, one woman, and two adolescents still face proceedings in the case.

The case devastated Venezuelans who saw it as a particularly awful symbol of the violent crime they have long suffered.

Venezuela's official homicide rate late year was 39 per 100,000 inhabitants, but local non-government organizations put the figure at nearly twice that for a total of 24,000 deaths.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said beating violent crime is a top priority and spoke movingly about Spear's death at the time. His critics say state anti-crime plans do not tackle root causes, such as impunity for many criminals, corrupt judges and complicity by some poorly paid police.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)