It was around 3 in the afternoon on February 22, 2016 when María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo contacted their families for the last time. They were on vacation in Ecuador, after 40 days of a trip they had dreamed of and planned for months, and were almost about to get on the plane that would take them back to their home in Mendoza, but they were trapped in a tragic fate.
The girls did not contact each other again and that silence was filled with anguish and uncertainty during the three days that followed, until they found Marina's body wrapped in a black plastic bag near the beach in Montañita. Forty-eight hours later, María José was found. The two friends had been brutally abused and murdered.
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Only seven months after the double femicide, the Ecuadorian justice system sentenced Alberto Segundo Mina Ponce and Aurelio Eduardo “El Rojo” Rodríguez to 40 years in prison, the maximum provided by the Penal Code of that country. The same fate befell José Luis Pérez Castro in September 2017, whose genetic profile was found in the house where the victims were murdered. However, during this process, other DNA profiles were also detected, to which it is still unknown who they belong to.
“'Fair' sentences do not exist with so much injustice, there is no sentence that is sufficient for so much atrocity,” Juan Coni, one of Majo's brothers, told TN, although he admitted that the 40 years did “bring them a little peace of mind.” that those responsible received. However, the damage they caused to his family is irreparable. “It has been eight years of reinventing oneself, of getting used to pain and becoming friends, otherwise it is difficult to carry on day to day,” he said.
Paula Menegazzo, Marina's sister, said: “God gives us moments of calm, but it is like a tattoo that you carry all your life, with the difference that the tattoo hurts at the moment and then it doesn't hurt anymore.” And she stated: “They are tragedies that remain in your retina forever and are passed from generation to generation.”
The double crime of Montañita
The two young women had left Mendoza on January 10 accompanied by two other friends bound for Peru, Ecuador and Chile, and a month after their departure they continued their journey alone towards Montañita, a town of about 5,000 inhabitants located on the peninsula of Santa Elena, 200 kilometers from Guayaquil, and stayed at Olón Hostería NJ.
“Life gave us one last dream sunset,” Marina wrote on her Instagram, along with a photo in which she can be seen with María José on the beach, when the lights of day began to disappear. The image, the last one the young woman posted, was shared just a few hours before that last contact with her family.
The last post from one of the victims of the Montañita double crime. (Photo: Instagram).
That was the call in which the girls announced that they were starting to return home, but they also announced that, since they had been robbed, they were going to leave Montañita for Lima, to stay at a friend's house until it was time to leave. board the flight.
But they never arrived at their friend's house, nor took the plane nor contacted anyone again. It was then that the alarm went off and the search began, which was interrupted hours later by the worst ending.
“The worst movie”
According to the investigation, the two had been drugged with benzodiazepine and beaten in a house far from the tourist area, and “they did not have the opportunity to make defensive movements.” The horror to which the victims were subjected was finally aired in the first trial, with the testimony of Lidia Médano, one of the forensic doctors who had participated in the autopsy of the bodies, as a witness.
Coni was killed with a blow to the skull and had injuries in the paragenital area from sexual abuse to which she resisted. She also had fractures in her femur. In Marina's case, she had six puncture wounds in her neck from her jaw to her cervical area.
Juan's moving message on the networks, shortly after his sister's crime. (Photo: Facebook/ Juan Coni).
One of those wounds was the one that caused his death, because it pierced his spine and spinal cord. However, he did not die instantly. She “she was paralyzed for a while. “She couldn't move but she could see and hear what was happening,” the coroner explained, according to Diario Uno de Mendoza, which was present at the debate. In addition, she maintained that the young women suffered “acute stress and anxious depression, because it was an act of extreme gender violence.”
Paula Menegazzo remembers as if it had happened yesterday the moment she had to enter the morgue to recognize her sister. “How was I going to recognize her if she didn't have eyes, she didn't have a nose, she didn't have teeth, she didn't have hair… it was the worst movie you could imagine,” she recalled now, in dialogue with TN.
Marina, with her sisters. (Photo: courtesy of Paula Menegazzo).
And he lamented: “All that was impregnated in us. All of this is sucked in, it is inhaled, specialists say that this type of tragedies has a shock in five generations, like a domino effect.”
Two trials, three convicted and loose ends
In August 2016, Mina Ponce and Rodríguez were convicted after it was proven that they first drugged both young women to make them lose their will and then “El Rojo” kept them kidnapped. A year later, Pérez Castro was convicted because his genetic profile was at the crime scene. In all three cases, the sentences were 40 years in prison and the rulings were final. However, they were not the only ones responsible. “There are more people, DNA was left unchecked, evidence was inconclusive,” Juan Coni, María José's brother, remarked to this medium.
“El Rojo” Rodríguez and Mina Ponce, the first two convicted of the Montañita femicides. (Photo: TN capture).
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“It was a human trafficking gang. It is suspected that there were eight, of which three have already been sentenced,” noted Paula Menegazzo. According to her testimony, the modus operandi of these people was always the same, but with the girls “something went wrong” and she forced them to improvise: “They woke up before the effects of the drugs they gave them and the “They had to kill.”
“That we had a trial the same year and a second trial in 2017 where three were convicted leaves a message. It's like telling them: be careful, it's not that they are never discovered or that they always leave through the revolving door,” she highlighted on the one hand, and also highlighted: “Thanks to them, many other girls were saved, they were martyrs.”
Eight years have passed since the double crime of the Mendoza friends, but for the families the wound remains intact. “Turning the page is a bit difficult,” said Juan Coni at the end of the interview with TN.
And he explained: “We remember her every day, every day there are new cases of femicides and they make you go back and stir up the past.”
In the midst of that pain with which, as he himself stated, he learned to become friends over time, he does not avoid the possibility of talking about his sister and remembers her as “fun, orderly, a companion to whoever was next to her, funny.”
The phrases that Majo had on a blackboard in his room. (Photo: courtesy of Juan Coni).
“Jose/Chuchi/Majo – as they called her – was incredible,” stressed her brother, who keeps her clothes, her books, her agenda and even the phrases she left stuck on a blackboard in her room as treasures.
“He lived dancing or reading the odd book, he liked to take photos, ride a bike…”, the memories continue to appear to fight against that absence that never stops hurting. “She could write a thousand more things and it would never finish!” she closed.
Gladys Steffani, Majo and Juan's mother, led the demands for justice for the girls and died on May 12, 2018, two years after her daughter's crime.
Paula Menegazzo also referred to the relationship between what happened and the passage of time, and expressed: “Each person lives their own processes, they have their own experience that cannot be transferred, neither with words nor in any other way. “You can't explain the pain.”
The painting that Marina's mother made in tribute to her daughter. (Photo: courtesy of Paula Menegazzo).
“It's been eight years, you think that the wound should heal but sometimes it doesn't,” added Marina's sister. In this sense, she used a phrase from her mother to explain herself: “It is as if one were living life leaning on the floor and a whole river of blood passed underneath.” “It is impossible to forget,” she asserted.
However, he also highlighted the decision they made as a family to “learn again to be happy despite what happened.” “These are moments where we once again have New Year's parties and birthday parties as a family, where we laugh out loud again, but we always name her and that helps us a lot to have her be with us,” she explained.
In addition to being the older sister, Paula was Marina's godmother and shared “a very deep relationship” with her. “I talk to her constantly, I can't forget her laugh, she was bursting with laughter, she had a very contagious laugh… she was mischievous, transparent, very sensitive, she helped others all the time,” she listed.
“That's what stays with me, his presence so marked, so free, so light,” said Paula. And she assured: “They are alive but they do not have a body. That's what we believe. By faith, because we see nothing but we feel, and also by concrete things. She is manifesting herself and is with us.”