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Convicted wife-killer murders his lover: the lawyer who secured his early release

Rebeca Santamalia, a respected attorney in Zaragoza, Spain, had been romantically involved with Salvador Calvo, who jumped off a bridge after stabbing her to death

Rebeca Santamalia and Salvador Calvo at the trial in 2005.
Rebeca Santamalia and Salvador Calvo at the trial in 2005. Heraldo de Aragón

On May 22, 2003, José Javier Salvador Calvo murdered his wife Patricia Maurel Conte in Puebla de Hijar (Teruel), in northeastern Spain. Calvo confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Last week, the lawyer who defended him at the trial and who secured his early release in January 2017 was found dead inside Calvo’s apartment in Teruel. Rebeca Santamalia had been romantically involved with her client, the victim’s sister confirmed.

Because Santamalia was  romantically involved with her former client, the crime is being investigated as gender violence

Calvo himself ran out of the apartment after allegedly stabbing Santamalia to death and threw himself off a landmark city bridge, the Viaducto de Fernando Hué, which is 34 meters at its highest point.

Santamalia’s body was found before dawn on Friday morning inside an apartment on 21 Francisco de Pradillo street. The 47-year-old lawyer was married and had a 14-year-old son. The crime is being investigated as a case of gender violence because of the romantic relationship between Salvador Calvo and Santamalia.

Santamalia’s husband reported her disappearance on Thursday night, according to government officials. The police contacted Santamalia’s sister, with whom she shared a law firm, and she informed officers of Santamalia’s romantic relationship with Calvo and directed them toward his house, which is located three minutes away from the law office.

The body of Patricia Maurel, killed in 2003 by Salvador Calvo.
The body of Patricia Maurel, killed in 2003 by Salvador Calvo. EFE

When Calvo failed to answer the phone or open the door, police contacted Ana, his sister, who had his house keys. They entered the premises at 4.20am and found the lawyer lying in a large pool of blood, said sources close to the investigation.

Moments earlier, a police patrol car had noticed a man walking alone along the bridge. When the officers approached him, he ran away. Later it emerged that he had jumped off. His pockets contained van keys and €1,200 in cash, but no identification. He was later identified as Salvador Calvo by his fingerprints, and the suicide was linked to Santamalia’s murder.

Out on parole

According to penitentiary sources, Calvo was imprisoned in May 2003 for an 18-year period ending in June 2021. In December 2011, despite an unfavorable report from prison officials, a prisoner supervision judge granted him open regime, allowing him to enjoy frequent release and to work outside the prison. 

In 2013 he was transferred to Zuera prison in Zaragoza, and was twice turned down for parole. After a third request was rejected by the parole board, Calvo appealed in December 2016 with help from his defense lawyer Santamalia. A judge granted him conditional release despite opposition from prison officials and prosecutors alike.

Street marches

The central government’s representative in Aragón, Carmen Sánchez, requested “unity” on Friday, when hundreds of men and women gathered at 7pm in Plaza de España in Zaragoza to protest this latest death.

A total of 978 women have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners since 2003

In La Puebla de Híjar, where Calvo killed his wife in 2003, a score of neighbors gathered outside the Town Hall at 1pm. “This man has completely severed his ties with the people here,” explained the mayor, Pedro Bello, adding that the few relatives Calvo had left in the municipality had ended their relationships with the murderer.

The family of the murdered wife and the three children have since moved to Híjar, the next town over, where Patricia Conte was born. News of Santamalia’s murder reached the town on Friday morning. “It has been terrible to remember those painful days again,” said Mayor Luis Carlos Marquesán. “We cannot understand how this happened.”

A successful career

A colleague of Rebeca’s remembers how she began her professional career with a prestigious criminal lawyer from Zaragoza, José Antonio Ruiz Galbe (who is now deceased), undertaking criminal and family cases. She was well known “for always trying to reach agreements between the parties,” explains her colleague.

The head of the Zaragoza Bar Association, Antonio Morán, recalled that between 2010 and 2012 Santamalia had coordinated the Penitentiary Counseling Service, a free service for prisoners that earned the bar association an award last September.

A total of 978 women have been murdered in Spain by their partners or ex-partners since 2003. So far this year there have been three victims of gender violence, including Rebeca Santamalia, and three other cases are being investigated.

 English version by Asia London Palomba.

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