For 23 years, every February 4th has hurt for the Melmann family. In 2001, Natalia was returning from dancing to her house in the town of Miramar, when a group of Buenos Aires police forced her into a patrol car and took her to a place far from the area to torture, rape and kill her. Today marks another anniversary of the brutal crime and the fear returns that the murderers of the 15-year-old teenager will be released.
“These are complex moments to take on. Prior to this date, many things are stirred internally in each of us. We live with our hearts in our hands,” said Nahuel, the young woman's brother, in dialogue with TN.
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Last year the case had several advances, since the Justice finally sentenced Ricardo Panadero, the fourth direct participant in Natalia's murder, to life imprisonment. However, Oscar Echenique and Ricardo Anselmini, two other police officers who have been serving the same sentence since 2002, are pushing for early release, something that worries family members.
“They say they are innocent. That is why they continue to be dangerous, they are detached from the damage they cause. “They have a denialist stance when there is unequivocal evidence,” Melmann said. And he highlighted that the former police officers presented multiple appeals to obtain benefits: “One is constantly being revictimized, repeating situations that represent pain and helplessness and justice does not repair. Justice would be if my sister were alive.”
Relatives of Natalia Melmann will march to demand justice. (Photo: Télam)
Along these lines, he insisted: “My parents have gone through the worst. A very complex struggle and that caused a deterioration in their psyche and quality of life. They are becoming more and more adults and have to continue fighting to make these people pay for their actions. “All the time he is crossed by injustice, he feels that things should not be like this, he feels helplessness and despair because the pain for us is going to be infinite.”
Crime of Natalia Melmann: the benefits that the convicted people had and the possibilities of getting out of prison
The victim's family denounced on repeated occasions that the murderers enjoyed “irregular benefits due to the crime they committed and the force to which they belonged” throughout their imprisonment. “Based on the struggle, we were able to modify the situation,” said Nahuel.
In 2002 there were four people convicted for Natalia's death: three Buenos Aires police officers Oscar Echenique, Ricardo Anselmini and Ricardo Suárez, who received life imprisonment, and Gustavo “El Gallo” Fernández, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for being considered the person who handed Melmann over to his murderers, but was acquitted of the charges of being a co-author of the homicide. In 2009, Echenique, Anselmini and Suárez were granted temporary releases for a year. This was revoked by Justice after finding irregularities and for not having complied with the corresponding guidelines.
The latter has to do with an episode that they fear will happen again. One afternoon in 2010, Laura, Natalia's mother, went to the supermarket near her house and when she was waiting at the checkout to pay she ran into Echenique, who was buying wine: “He had permission to resocialize, but he could only be in his home, I couldn't leave there. That's why they get the first benefit.”
The three police officers convicted in 2001: Oscar Echenique, Ricardo Anselmini and Ricardo Suárez. (Photo: Courtesy 0223)
In 2017, the three once again enjoyed temporary outings: 12 hours twice a month. This ruling had been approved by the Court of Appeal of Mar del Plata, since the executing judge had rejected it in the first instance. This benefit lasted until 2018, at which time it was reversed. Then the pandemic arrived and with the strict quarantine, the three former police officers requested house arrest, but the request was rejected and confirmed by the La Plata Court of Cassation.
At that time, Justice reported that the duration of the sentence would be completed for Suárez and Echenique in June/July 2022 and in September for Anselmini. “As the 20 years of imprisonment became effective, the executing judge himself considered the requirement of the temporality of the sentence fulfilled because when the crimes were committed, other types of temporalities governed,” Melmann said.
For this reason, since the beginning of 2022, both Echenique and Anselmini began to present appeals to seek early release. In these cases, the judge must study in depth several points to rule in favor: the behavior, whether it has advanced in terms of mental health, whether it has given the socio-environmental conditions.
In that context, Nahuel explained: “Many of those points are not met in them. They have never undergone sustained psychological treatment, they are people who do not accept their actions or guilt, they present psychopathic traits. “That is the reason given by the judges, which emerges from the prison service reports prepared by professionals.”
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In addition, the judges questioned the addresses that the two former police officers presented to “eventually comply with a conditional release regime.” On the one hand, Echenique proposed a residence that would be extremely close to the Melmann home, something the family had previously warned about and which he criticized. In the case of Anselmini, the Justice found that the place offered was inhabited by “two inmates who were convicted of gender violence.”
In 2023, former Buenos Aires police officer Ricardo Panadero was sentenced to life in prison. He had been acquitted in 2002 before the case in which the other convicts received life sentences was brought to trial. The measure was later revoked by the Supreme Court and he was finally tried in 2018, although he was acquitted. However, the ruling was appealed by the prosecutor's office and the teenager's family and in 2019, Chamber III of the Buenos Aires Court of Cassation annulled that acquittal and ordered a new process to be carried out. After the verdict of the second trial, he appealed the sentence and his case is being analyzed in the Court of Cassation: “He enjoyed 22 years of impunity, he was protected by the judicial system itself,” said Natalia's brother.
For the second time, former sergeant Ricardo Panadero is tried for the femicide of Natalia Melmann. (Photo: courtesy of La Tecla de Mar del Plata).
So far, Echenique and Anselmini have submitted three requests for parole that have been denied. The last one was in December 2023, rejected in the first and second instance. Although the family had been uncertain since the first proposal, in this request there was a greater chance that the agents would be released, since the judges' decision was closer: two voted in favor – Adrián Angulo and Pablo Poggetto -, while one -Esteban Viñas- did so in favor. Now, this request went to Cassation in La Plata. This January, Anselmini redoubled his bets and, while he waits to be benefited, he requested in parallel to be able to have temporary exits. The decision will be made by the Court of Mar del Plata No. 1. For his part, Suárez has not submitted any request until these days.
“It is news that passes through us, it stirs many things in us. One feels the regret of the years in relation to the struggle and everything that it entails. The physical, the psychological, is exhausting. The attempts that one makes to obtain justice are a commitment to society that this does not happen again, that those responsible with what corresponds to them. But it takes life,” Melmann lamented.
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23 years after the aberrant crime, this Sunday at 9 p.m. there will be a tribute to Natalia: they will start from 21st and 28th streets in front of the municipality of Miramar and will walk to the seashore, where they will leave flowers in the sand to connect with her.
What was the brutal murder of Natalia Melmann like?
On February 4, 2001, Natalia Mariel Melmann, 15 years old, returned home from dancing in the town of Miramar. Around 7:00, a group of police officers stopped her and, after hitting her, forced her to get into a patrol car.
Then, they moved her to a precarious home in the Copacabana neighborhood, on the outskirts of the city. There they tortured, raped and hanged her with the lace of her own shoe.
There was no news from Natalia during the four days that her disappearance lasted. Her family and friends searched for her along with the security forces, even without knowing that the police had participated in the monstrous event that was going to shock the entire country.
The 15-year-old teenager was returning home when a group of police officers kidnapped, tortured and killed her. (Photo: Nahuel Melmann)
His body appeared on February 8, buried under a mound of dry leaves in the “Florentino Ameghino” nursery. It is presumed that the body was left there that same day of the crime and was found by a boy who was walking in the area.
He had bruises on his thighs, cigarette burns on his left hand, a broken septum and a severe blow to his skull. The autopsy finally revealed the presence of five different genetic profiles and confirmed that, after being tortured and raped, she was asphyxiated with the lace of her own shoe, which was tied around her neck with a double knot. Four of the participants were convicted, but a fifth DNA remains to be identified.