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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Widow Loses Bid to Make Husband’s Killer Pay

(CN) - A widow seeking to collect a $7 million judgment from the man who murdered her husband in 1976 while he was serving as a U.N. diplomat in Chile will not be given the man's location, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

Laura Gonzalez-Vera is trying to track down Michael Vernon Townley, a U.S. citizen who worked for Chile's intelligence service under President Augusto Pinochet, for which he served five years in prison and then entered the U.S. marshal witness protection program. Townley was also convicted in the torture and murder of Carmelo Soria Espinoza, Gonzalez-Vera's husband, a U.N. diplomat who was living and working in Chile at the time.

The federal appeals court ruled that Townley is making reasonable efforts to pay the judgment.

When Gonzalez-Vera obtained the initial judgment, U.S. marshals relayed the news to Townley, who responded with an affidavit revealing his assets, debts, income and financial history. The director of the Witness Security Program then told the court that Townley could reasonably pay $75 a week toward the judgment, but Gonzalez-Vera angrily rejected the deal.

Gonzalez-Vera argued that the attorney general should appoint a guardian to collect the judgment, but the district court ruled that the attorney general had "no choice, no discretion, no decision" to appoint a guardian when he had already determined that Townley was making efforts to pay.

The D.C. Circuit in Washington ruled that the attorney general has no authority to disclose the location of a person who has made efforts to pay, in response to Gonzalez saying he could disclose any time he wanted.

"Under Gonzalez-Vera's interpretation ... guardianship would become available in every case in which the protected person's identity and location are not disclosed to the judgment-holder, including cases-like this one-in which the Attorney General determines that the protected person is making reasonable efforts to satisfy the judgment," Judge David Tatel wrote.

"Congress intended to make guardianship available only where the Attorney General finds that the protected person is failing to make reasonable efforts," Tatel added.

Gonzalez-Vera can seek a new court determination if she thinks Townley's financial circumstances have changed, the court ruled.

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