Mapuche healer takes guilty verdict in iconic arson case to high court

By Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis
Published On : Tue, Apr 22nd, 2014

Defense for Celestino Córdova appeals 18-year sentence for the death of the Luchsinger-Mackay couple at the Supreme Court.

a side-on, close-up of Celestino Cordova

Celestino Córdova was sentenced to 18 years in February for an arson attack which led to the deaths of an elderly couple. Photo courtesy of

One of the most emblematic cases in the so-called Mapuche conflict took another turn Tuesday as the man found guilty of the deaths of two elderly landowners in Southern Chile appealed the ruling in the country’s highest court.

Found guilty by the Temuco Criminal Court in February on charges of arson resulting in death, the defense team for Celestino Córdova is now asking the Supreme Court to annul the decision and clear the Mapuche leader’s name.

“What we are asking the judges is essentially that Celestino Córdova be directly absolved, the high court always has the ability to absolve him,” a lawyer from the defense team, Karina Riquelme, said Monday.

Riquelme maintains her client’s innocence, saying he was persecuted unfairly by the Public Prosecutor.

“[The prosecutors] investigated in order to find Córdova guilty, not to establish the truth about what actually happened that day,” Riquelme said. “To us, this is a mistake.”

On Feb. 20, Córdova — a machi, or religious leader for his local indigenous Mapuche community — was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being found responsible for setting fire to the home of Werner Luchsinger Lemp (75) and Vivian Mackay González (69), which killed the couple. Prosecutors had asked for 36 years for robbery and life in prison for the fatal arson attack.

Although it is believed the crime was committed by multiple people, Córdova is the only person to be charged in the case. Thus, in his trial prosecutors had to prove that he was both a participant and a leader of the attack which took place Jan. 4, 2013.

The case had become a focal issue in the ongoing debate over land disputes, hardline activism and anti-terrorism legislation involving Chile’s largest indigenous community. In a split decision, the Temuco court threw out terrorism charges in the Luchsinger-Mackay case saying they could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the acts were of a terrorist nature. The court also found Córdova not guilty in a separate charge for an arson on Fundo Santa Isabela from 2012 that was determined to be an act of terrorism.

Córdova remains imprisoned in Temuco in the Mapuche political prisoners unit throughout the proceedings.

Source: The Santiago Times

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