BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Witnesses have gathered in a small city in upstate New York this month to testify in the trial of a man accused of strangling a young nursing student. But there is no jury and no American judge, and the accused man is seated next to his defense attorney 2,200 miles away -- in Nicaragua.
In a rare legal proceeding, the trial of former Binghamton University student Orlando Tercero in the 2018 killing of 22-year-old Haley Anderson is being held at a court in Managua, Nicaragua, with a Nicaraguan prosecutor and a Nicaraguan judge applying Nicaraguan law.
American prosecutors have no authority over the trial, but the Broome County district attorney's office in New York is deeply involved as a facilitator for witness testimony. The witnesses have testified, with the help of a translator, via a video link from a room in the district attorney's office in downtown Binghamton.
Authorities say Tercero, now 23, strangled Anderson at his off-campus residence in Binghamton in March 2018. Anderson, who was from Westbury village on Long Island, was found dead in Tercero's bed. The two college students had a romantic relationship, but Tercero wanted a more serious relationship, according to trial testimony.
Tercero killed Anderson and fled to Nicaragua, which rejected an extradition request from the U.S., authorities said. Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell said the Nicaraguan trial may be the only way to get justice. Tercero is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Nicaragua.
"We have a duty and a responsibility to see this through whatever court process we can," Cornwell said.
The case of a person being tried in another country under a foreign legal system after a killing that took place on U.S. soil is unusual, but not unprecedented.
Last year, a Cuban man was tried, convicted and sentenced to 20 years under the Cuban legal system in the killing of a doctor in Florida. Unlike the New York case, a Palm Beach County investigator traveled to Cuba for Marcos Yanes Gutierrez's trial and testified in person for the court proceedings, said Florida Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts.
"The trial was very similar to our own system," said McRoberts, who also traveled for the trial.
McRoberts said allowing Gutierrez to evade punishment by simply fleeing to another country was "unacceptable." There is still an American warrant for Gutierrez's arrest, but it is unlikely to ever be served because the U.S. cannot force him to be extradited, she said.
Tercero's trial began in Nicaragua earlier this month and has included two days of testimony so far. There is no jury, and the verdict will be decided by a judge.
"We will argue against the proof," Tercero's defense attorney said through an interpreter, the Press & Sun-Bulletin of Binghamton reported earlier this month.
During the latest day of testimony, Oct. 11, Tercero was clad in the blue uniform of a prisoner, speaking with his lawyer from time to time and sometimes smiling. Three prison officers dressed in black stood behind them, carrying firearms.
Tercero's mother, Martha Moreno, also attended. When the judge called a recess, the defendant was allowed to approach Moreno. They hugged and held a whispered conversation.
That same day, in Binghamton, a police investigator testified via the video link that Tercero left a note at his residence saying he was sorry.
Down the hall at the district attorney's office, Anderson's friends and supporters watched the bright and grainy livestream from a wood-paneled viewing room.
Legal experts said Tercero could still be prosecuted under the American legal system if he is ever extradited, even if he is acquitted in Nicaragua.
Managua, located on the shores of Lake Xolotlan, is Nicaragua's capital and largest city, with about 1.8 million inhabitants.
A Section on 10/21/2019
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