Peru Releases 78-Year-Old Man who Languished in Prison for Decades

Peruvian authorities have released a 78-year-old man who has spent 37 years in prison, 27 years more than his original sentence.

Juan Navarro Acuña was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1976 for killing his mother. At the time, the sentence was the maximum penalty for murder, according to daily La Republica, which revealed his case last week.

But Navarro Acuña, who was called the “Angel of Death,” didn’t get out of jail after his sentence was completed, and instead languished in Lima’s prisons for the next 27 years. It is unclear exactly why he wasn’t released, but hundreds of prisoners remain in prison beyond their terms when they cannot pay the court fine handed down at the time of their sentencing or have no one to process their release papers in court.  In Navarro’s case, however, being in the wrong place at the wrong time may influenced his situation.

What has been determined by La Republica is that Navarro Acuña was originally imprisoned in a jail in Arequipa, but was transferred to El Fronton, a former prison located on the smaller island next to San Lorenzo off the coast of Lima.

El Fronton was used as a prison for hardened criminals but also in the 1980s for members of the Shining Path insurgency. The imprisoned Maoist rebels held an uprising at El Fronton and the Lurigancho prison and Santa Barbara women’s prison in 1986, in an effort to upstage then-President Alan Garcia’s hosting of the Socialist International meeting in Lima, headed by Willy Brandt. The prisoners took hostages and in some cases were armed. Under pressure to quell the riots before the international dignitaries began arriving, Peruvian state security officers were sent in to the prisons. The result was  close to 300 deaths, including about 138 at El Fronton in a hard battle with the Navy (at Lurigancho, the deaths were proven to be summary executions after the prisoners had surrendered).

Navarro Acuña survived the El Fronton massacre (the Navy destroyed the prison the following day), and was later transferred to Lurigancho, an overcrowded and notoriously violent prison in Lima. He was considered the oldest inmate in Lurigancho until his release this week.

“I’ve waited for this moment for years,” said an emotional Navarro Acuña. “I’m old, this is very difficult for me, but I think that the fight is just starting today,” he said.  The government has placed him in a home in the north Lima district of Los Olivos.

Navarro Acuña said that his daughter was about two or three years old when he was imprisoned. He also has two brothers who he hasn’t seen since he was sent to prison.

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