Janet Hinostroza: “Justice Has a Very High Price in Ecuador”

EspañolNelson Serrano was the first and only Ecuadorian citizen to be sentenced to death in the United States. But after nine years of research, journalist Janet Hinostroza shows that failures and corruption, so familiar in the Latin-American context, are no stranger to the US justice system, in her new documentary titled Nelson Serrano: I’m Innocent.

Nelson Serrano was sentenced to death in the United States in 2006, with no conclusive evidence against him.(Murderpedia)
Nelson Serrano was sentenced to death in the United States in 2006, despite their being no conclusive evidence against him. (Murderpedia)

Serrano, an Ecuadorian businessman and US citizen, was convicted in 1997 for the murder of Frank Dosso, Diane Patisso, George Patisso, and George Gonsalves in Bartow, Florida. In 2006, he was sentenced to death, a ruling that was confirmed the following year.

In an interview with the PanAm Post, Hinostroza explained why her latest project to shine a light on Serrano’s murky case begins a new phase in her 20 years as an investigative reporter.

The documentary features a combination of journalistic and police investigation to portray Nelson Serrano’s life in prison, and his family’s struggle to prove his innocence. The film premiered on national television on April 13, and will soon be available online after being broadcast at international human-rights festivals.

How did you get involved with Serrano’s case?

I’ve been investigating it for nine years. It caught my attention because he’s the first Ecuadorian to be sentenced to death — there’s no death penalty in Ecuador, so his case is unique.

When I researched a little about how and why he was sentenced, I found several inconsistencies. Nelson Serrano was sentenced to four death sentences, as the perpetrator of the four killings, but there is not a single bit of evidence that he was present at the crime scene. There were no fingerprints, no hairs, not even a witness, nothing.

So my question was: how can you be condemned as the material author if you were not there? I’d been reporting the events surrounding this case for several years, when I decided to make a longer documentary that summarizes all the material I had.

How would you describe the process of making the documentary?

It’s been a dream come true. We worked with a small but brilliant team of professionals. We made a video with a very compelling story, that grabs the attention of the viewer, and keeps him interested from the beginning to the end, and that was what we wanted.

We wanted to give it a touch of mystery, tension, and it had an extraordinary result. It’s a high quality production that left us feeling very satisfied.

Why were there so many abuses committed against Serrano? He mentions that he was tortured for 200 days, for example.

The US justice system is good, but because it’s formed by humans, mistakes are made within it. There are private interests and corruption, as in all the legal systems of the world.

What happens is that this system has projected an image of huge success. This makes it hard to believe that it can make any mistakes; much less if these involve a person who is going to lose his life.

But these things happen. More than 1,200 people in the United States have escaped from death row, and they’ve been able to prove their innocence only after years in jail. He [Serrano] is a yet another victim. It’s the classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

US justice is also moved by vested interests. Prosecutors are elected by vote, and the “best” are those who oversee the largest number of executions. It makes them look like heroes, people who fight against insecurity for the welfare of society. It’s very dangerous not to know how many innocents have died without being able to prove their innocence.

How have audiences responded? Has the documentary been received positively?

We’re very happy. There was a lot of expectation about the documentary, we had a very good review on television. We were the trending topic on social media in Ecuador.

What I liked most is that many people now want to help, and I love that because one of the objectives of the documentary was to awaken people’s consciences, not only for Nelson Serrano, but against the death penalty.

This case shook me up, and it showed me that the death penalty sets a very dangerous example. Here in Ecuador, people call for it to be imposed a lot, because of course it’s painful to see that a person you love has been raped or hurt.

But if things like this happen in the United States, where an innocent person can be executed, can you imagine what could happen in an imperfect system like ours?

Justice in Ecuador has a very high price, and the poor have no access to it, so I think it would be very dangerous. We run the risk of committing many injustices just to make someone pay for an offense.

What do you think about President Rafael Correa qualifying the press as “bad” or “good” in his remarks at the Seventh Summit of the Americas?

This documentary demonstrates that there is a “good” press in Latin America, and in Ecuador. We’re very professional, and we can be very objective. In the documentary, I recognize the work that the government of Rafael Correa has done in Nelson Serrano’s case, and I have no problem in saying it, because that is the professional and correct thing to do.

I wonder what criteria he’s using to rate good press and bad press, though. Who decides that? Himself? He has a lot of media outlets in the country working for the government, under his orders, and issuing propaganda rather than journalism. If the press he criticizes is the bad one, I guess the press he’s holding hostage is the good one.

Correa shouldn’t generalize. He can’t say there’s a good and a bad press, and rate it according to a completely biased judgement. According to him, whoever makes propaganda for him and applauds what he does is good, and whoever dares to criticize or reveal any act of corruption in his government is bad.

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