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CRIME

Was Asunta killed by her mother?

The 12-year-old was in a car with Porto despite claim she had been left at home

Rosario Porto during her testimony before an investigating judge.
Rosario Porto during her testimony before an investigating judge.

The new defense lawyer for the mother of Asunta, a 12-year-old girl found dead near Santiago de Compostela on September 21, says there is no hard evidence against Rosario Porto and that he will request a new line of investigation. José Luis Gutiérrez Aranguren has replaced Porto’s original defense attorney Juan Guillán, who dropped the case alleging lack of expertise in criminal law.

Aranguren visited Rosario Porto in custody on Monday, and described the main suspect in the case as very dejected. “She was crying,” he told reporters after spending three hours with her. Porto apparently claims there is “another perpetrator” in connection with the death of her adopted daughter, whom investigators believe was drugged and bound before being suffocated.

Porto’s ex-husband Alfonso Basterra is also being held at Teixeiro penitentiary, in A Coruña, while investigators try to find conclusive evidence linking either one of them to Asunta’s death. The judge who interrogated the pair on Friday found serious inconsistencies in their version of events: Porto originally claimed that she had left Asunta doing homework at her apartment at 7pm on the night of her disappearance, and that when she returned around 9.30pm after spending some time at the family’s country house in Teo, the child was gone. But a surveillance camera captured images of Porto and her daughter together in a car, driving in the direction of Teo, at around 8pm. The mother then changed her story, saying she did take Asunta to Teo, then dropped her off in downtown Santiago with instructions to go to her father’s place, where all three were supposed to have dinner together.

Porto’s defense lawyer doubts any conclusive evidence against his client will be found. As for the camera footage, he said that “this is not proof.” Aranguren noted that the initial rumors about an economic motive behind the death, on grounds that Porto’s wealthy parents had bypassed her daughter and bequeathed everything to Asunta, have already turned out to be false. Rosario Porto was the sole beneficiary of her parents’ possessions (both passed away recently in quick succession), adds Guillán, who knows this for a fact because he is a family acquaintance who personally “handled the inheritance paperwork” for Rosario’s father.

A responsible, bright and mature daughter

Asunta never passed by unnoticed — among other things, because she was the first adopted Chinese girl to be seen on the streets of Santiago. The little girl, whose original name was Yong Fang, arrived in Galicia at age one, and her parents were interviewed by a local TV station.

People who knew Asunta describe her as a very responsible, mature child who was very close to both her parents and maternal grandparents. After her regular classes at the prestigious high school Rosalía de Castro, Asunta took private lessons in English, piano, violin and dance. She was such a good student that her teachers had decided to let her skip a grade. Asunta’s parents — Rosario Porto, a lawyer and honorary French consul, and Alfonso Basterra, a journalist — ensured she had a busy social life, regularly attending classical music concerts together. For 11 years, Santiago’s social elite was witness to the relationship of mutual adoration between Asunta and her parents.

But things took a turn for the worse in late 2011, when Rosario’s mother passed away. Her father died seven months later. Friends say Rosario broke down physically and mentally. Soon after that, Rosario and Alfonso suddenly separated. Asunta went to live with her mother, but spent more time with her father, who moved just 20 meters away.

“All the motives have unraveled, one by one,” he said.

To complicate things even further, in July Rosario Porto went to a Santiago police station to report that an intruder dressed in black and wearing latex gloves had slipped into her apartment in the middle of the night; that her daughter’s screams had woken her up; and that she had tried to catch the man. El Periódico de Catalunya reported that Porto had a bruise on her head, but when she tried to file the report she was told she needed to get a medical certificate first. Porto never followed through and didn’t show up at the station again.

When Asunta disappeared, she again told police about this event, and added that she had left her keys in the lock by mistake, and ultimately decided against the complaint “so as not to create any trauma for her daughter.”

Juan Guillán, Porto’s first lawyer following her arrest on homicide charges, added that inside that apartment “there is a safe that happens to be in Asunta’s room.”

“Both she and her daughter were very, very absent-minded, and they often left the keys in the lock,” he claims. Another strange incident took place on July 16. Following Asunta’s death, her music teachers at a private academy in Santiago told the police that on that day, the girl showed up for classes with strange symptoms. She was very dizzy, apparently under the effects of pills, and was unable to follow the lessons. Asunta herself told her teachers: “My mother wants to kill me.” Her instructors informed her father, who came to pick her up after class, but failed to report it to the police.

Guillán also said that Rosario Porto’s health deteriorated significantly “in late June” and that she had to be taken to the hospital. “She went in because of lupus, but her diagnosis got much more complicated. Doctors thought she had suffered a stroke. She spent eight days at the hospital.”

Porto was released but told to take strong medication. Following the alleged robbery attempt and the music academy episode, Porto went to the beach to recover with some friends, while Asunta remained in her father’s care.

“Rosario wanted the girl to keep in touch with her father,” said Guillán. “She made sacrifices for her, so she wouldn’t suffer over the separation.” He also revealed that Porto was trying to sell the country house in Teo because she rarely went there and maintenance costs were high.