People Vs. Duntugan: Guilty as Charged

One of the major stories we covered in this blog, the killing of Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell and the subsequent trial of Juan Duntugan for murder, is now kinda coming to an end. The court has found that Duntugan is guilty of murdering Campbell and sentenced him to life in prison. I’m reprinting the Inquirer story below.

And here are the links to our previous stories:
Missing in Ifugao: Julia Campbell, US Peace Corps Volunteer
Video Updates on Julia Campbell
On Juan Dontugan’s Surrender [highly recommended by me for re-reading hehe]
People vs. Dontugan I
People vs. Dontugan II
Campbell Family to Attend Dontugan Hearing

Life in prison for killer of Peace Corps Volunteer

Melvin Gascon/Inquirer

Justice came Monday for Julia Campbell, a Peace Corps volunteer who gave up a journalistic career in the United States to work with the poor in the Philippines but found death instead on a deserted mountain trail in Ifugao province.

A judge found 25-year-old woodcarver Juan Donald Duntugan, the lone suspect in the April 8, 2007, killing of Campbell in Batad village, guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Duntugan, wearing a striped green shirt, showed little emotion. He immediately turned to his jail escort and thrust his hands for handcuffing after the decision was read out to him in English in open court.

But he sobbed as the verdict was translated in the Ifugao dialect.

“This is justice for Julia,” Prosecutor Reynaldo Agranzamendez told The Associated Press by telephone. “But justice can only compensate, it cannot bring her back to life.”

Judge Ester Piscoso-Flor of the Regional Trial Court also ordered Duntugan, a father of three, to pay the family of Campbell P39.7 million in actual, moral and exemplary damages.

The judge said Duntugan killed Campbell “with the use of treachery and abuse of superior strength” but that she could not impose the death penalty because it had been banned in the Philippines.

The 40-year-old Campbell, a volunteer English teacher in Albay province where she waded through floods to help victims of Supertyphoon “Reming,” was posthumously awarded the Order of the Golden Heart “for her dedicated service to the Philippines” by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo two months after she was murdered.

Campbell was bludgeoned with a rock on Easter Sunday last year while trekking alone in a mountain path in Batad village, about 10 kilometers from the town proper.

She had disappeared after she stopped at a village grocery run by Duntugan’s wife to buy soda. Police said the American was murdered shortly afterwards.

Her decomposing body was found 10 days later, buried in a dried-up gorge, about 20 meters from the trail.

Duntugan later surfaced to own up to the killing but claimed in his defense that he killed Campbell in a fit of rage after mistaking the American for his enemy in the village.

In his arraignment, Duntugan entered a plea of “not guilty” to the murder charges.

“My mind went blank,” Duntugan said during the hearing.

“I didn’t know who bumped me or what he or she was. I just grabbed a rock and smashed it into that person’s head.”

The judge rejected the defense and ruled the killing was premeditated and involved “abuse of strength and treachery.”

For nearly two hours, two court employees took turns in reading the decision as Duntugan stood in front of the packed courtroom of RTC Branch 34 in Barangay (village) Tam-an. The sealed envelope containing the decision was turned over to the clerk of court by Judge Flor on June 23.

Defenseless Julia
At the front row sat Geary Morris, Campbell’s elder sister, accompanied by the victim’s friends and colleagues in the Peace Corps.

Duntugan’s wife, Grace, who sat on the second row, bowed and cried.

In Manila, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney thanked all those who worked to solve Campbell’s killing and added: “I think for all of us it’s important now to move on.”

“Our Peace Corps is trying to continue the work that meant a lot to her,” Kenney said.

In elevating the killing from homicide to murder, the court gave credence to the prosecutor’s accusation that Duntugan, based on his statement issued to the police after his surrender, “attacked the defenseless and unsuspecting Julia from behind.”

“Even without the admissions of (Duntugan), the number and nature of wounds sustained by (Campbell) are indicative of abuse of superior strength,” the court said.

The court noted that Campbell suffered 15 wounds on different parts of the body, caused by at least 15 blows, mostly to the head.

Family accepts
The bulk of the damages awarded to the victim’s family represented Campbell’s unearned income—as a result of her death—for the next 26 years amounting to $871,676, or over P39 million.

The decision ended more than a year of trial in which 16 witnesses—15 for the prosecution and one for the defense—testified in 11 hearings.

Duntugan was whisked away by jail guards after the sentencing and did not speak to reporters.

His mother, Jane, said the family was accepting the court’s ruling.

Lawyer Eugene Ballitang, one of Duntugan’s lawyers, said the defense panel was studying the possibility of filing an appeal to the Supreme Court based “on pure questions of law.”

’A very long year’
“It is our belief that treachery and abuse of superior strength should not have qualified the crime to murder,” he said.

Morris said it had been “a very long year,” but thanked all those who supported the Campbell family, including their Filipino lawyers.

The Peace Corps has assigned more than 8,000 volunteers to the Philippines since 1961, Philippine officials say.

Campbell, a freelance journalist who worked for the New York Times and other media organizations, came to the Philippines in March 2005.

As a journalist in New York City, she was described as a tenacious reporter, and fellow reporters remembered her generosity and courage.

Campbell said she decided to leave her job and join the Peace Corps after the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center bombing.

“I lived near Ground Zero,” Campbell said. “I wanted to show people in the world what Americans are really like because after 9/11, people had the impression that Americans are bad, selfish and greedy.”

Quitting the rat race
Campbell added that most of them in the Peace Corps were not rich, came from the middle class and received no salaries, except for a small living allowance.

She wrote in her blog that “at the age of 38, I decided to step out of the rat race of New York, join the Peace Corps and board a plane for Manila.”

“I wanted to reach out to people. I wanted to volunteer and do it full time,” Campbell said.

She helped establish an ecology center that has been named for her in Donsol town in Sorsogon province, which is famous for whale sharks. She later taught English and literature at Divine Word College in Legazpi City.

Her brutal killing drew public condemnation because of its contrast to her efforts to help provide education to the country’s poor and promote environmental protection.

Campbell’s death stunned this quiet corner of the Philippines, a popular tourist destination known the world over for its 2,000-year-old rice terraces.

‘Every day is a struggle’
Campbell kept a blog where she chronicled her volunteer work in the Philippines, including the joy she felt in helping the poor and her longing for home as her two-year Peace Corps stint neared its end.

“I would be lying if I did not say that every day is a struggle. I miss home and my old life. I miss being there for the things that happen in the lives of people I care about,” Campbell said. With reports from Cynthia Balana, Inquirer Research and Associated Press

13 Comments
  1. To satisfy the Americans that true justice exists in the Philippines, it’s at the expense of this poor Ifugao, nothing more, nothing less.
    If this was tried in the U.S., Juan D had a better chance of getting manslaughter.
    Interpreting malice or pre-meditated is quite mystifying in the Phiippines.
    Justice is served for Julia’s family but the RIGHT verdict was not accorded the accused.
    Pins and needles maybe over for the victorious camp yet it will continue to linger on to the convict’s family. Sheer tragedy..

  2. If this case had been tried in the USA Julia’s murderer would be sitting on death row awaiting his journey to hell where he belongs!

  3. Very well written Bill, It made me cry…really…

    It was so vividly recounted. With a lesser writer, it would have sounded hollow.

    I commend Julia and the other peace corps volunteers for their selflessness and desire to help indigent people.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anonymous 11:38 – You are quick to the draw and would love to see this guy dead. By the way, where in the U.S., if this case was tried, will he get the death penalty? The facts are all laid out before us and the verdict handed down was not appropriate.

  5. Sure the case is over but not with the damages effected on the families of both the parties involved.

  6. Trublue–that’s because Julia was a member of my family, and no, I’m not “quick to the draw”! I’ve seen what Julia’s murder has done to her parents and sister & brother. I know the facts in great detail more so than you do! As for where in the USA he would die. I’d be happy to throw the switch on “old sparky” or give him the lethal injection–this animal does not deserve to live–‘nough said!!

  7. No question it was a horrible event for you and Julia’s family.
    And for you to reason with extreme hatred and animosity is understood.
    But for you to openly say he is an “animal” and deserve the “chair” is uncalled for. It makes me think what did you stand for prior to this tragedy: Against or for the Death Penalty and you cannot flip-flop in this historical issue because someone in your family was murdered. I am for the Death Penalty. Maybe the Death Penalty in the Philippines was “grandfathered” and you can petition the Supreme Court to unlock the “landmark law” to have this “animal” executed by you. The US System is a beacon for justice around the world, yet it’s legal is flawed and imperfect.

    It’s great to know YOU had access
    to ALL the DETAILS sorrounding the case. My view remains the same: there was no malice and it wasn’t premeditated.

    I respect your opinions and please respect mine, let’s agree to disagree on this one.

  8. Trublue–agreed. This thread ends as a stalemate.

    Believe me I’ve looked at both sides feeling what Duntugan’s family must be feeling. What Duntugan feels. He made a mistake. No one will ever know why he did what he did. If he were let go…probably would never hurt anyone again.

    I was in the hate mode when I typed my responses to you. Do I hate the accused…No, I don’t. I see a young man that’s ruined his future. He doesn’t have an evil face, probably was a good person, might still be.

    What a sad thing knowing Duntugan’s wife was pregnant at the time of Julia’s death. A baby that won’t have the benefit of a father nearby, will only know of his/her dad as someone they see in a jail.

    There are profound implications on all sides of each family.

  9. Hi Trublue and Anonymous,
    Thanks for agreeing to disagree. I think all of us agree, as anonymous said, that this debate will just end in a stalemate.

    Of course the debate on death penalty will also end in stalemate. Both of you support it. I don’t support it at all. But let’s also agree to disagree. Peace.

    Hi Jena Isle,
    Thanks. Actually the article is from the Inquirer hehe. Unless, of course, if you are referring to my previous posts on this matter.

  10. True, there was a crime. There was a victim. There was a criminal. The victim had rights. The criminal has rights. Justice must be delivered both to the victim and her family, and to the criminal.

    It is unfortunate that the Philippine legal system does not inspire public trust. So that when the poor are convicted, we assume they were cheated by the system. And when we make that assumption, a good segment of the population thinks we are not sympathetic to the victim. Arrrgh!

    I think Judge Flor is an upright human being. This does not mean to say however that she is infallible. She may have erred and we hope that the court of last resort will correct her. Of course, she may not have erred and if that is the case we hope that she will be sustained.

    But I myself cannot help but wonder why the case was decided in record time. Is it because the victim was an American? Many Filipinos have to wait for a lifetime for justice. Others die while waiting. With the phenomenal speed with which the case was disposed of, I do not blame others when they suspect that the scales of justice were tilted in favor of the victim and against the accused, as though America threw its weight around.We wouldn’t put it past The Hegemon.

  11. By the way, TruBlue and Bill, I am not for the death penalty – I mean, not here in the Philippines at least. So, TruBlue, we agree to disagree on this one. Bill is a kindred soul on this matter and I am glad.

    Where the justice system is flawed (a very mild expression of how I feel about the Philippine justice system) and there is no foreclosing the probability of the guilty being set free and the innocent being convicted, the death penalty ought not to be imposed. What guarantee is there that truth will not be sacrificed? Philippine experience has shown that only the poor have been put to death by the justice system, with the exception of the rapists of Maggie dela Riva. These rapists were rich but take note that Ms dela Riva herself had the stature and means to make the justice system think twice about raping her over again. Rich people accused of heinous crimes escaped lethal injection. Is this a system that we can trust with the death penalty?

    Someone said that it is better to set free 99 guilty people than to convict one innocent person.

    Besides, don’t you think death is a very merciful punishment to mete out to murderers, rapists and other people guilty of heinous crimes? The loss of life is less tragic than the loss of liberty for a lifetime. As Henry said, “Give me liberty. Or give me death!”

  12. Hi Chyt,
    Hey. Glad you’re back. You’re sorely missed around here. Good points about our justice system. It is unfortunate indeed that people don’t have much confidence in our courts [although in fairness to the judiciary it gets higher public trust ratings than either the executive or the legislative branch].

    I’m also glad that you’re not for the death penalty. Although I might make some exceptions when it comes to war criminals like Dubya and his henchmen/women. Hope he gets indicted when he leaves office for Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

    Oops. I’m violating my no off topic rule. But peace everyone.

    Welcome back again, Chyt 🙂

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