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Three suspects taken into custody in connection with the mysterious death of a Philippines flight attendant have been released from custody after prosecutors questioned a law enforcement officials' rape theory.
Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said the case lacked the evidence necessary to determine whether Christine Dacera—who was found dead in a hotel bathtub on New Year’s Day—had been raped or murdered, according to Philippine news outlet GMA News Online.
The case has been referred for preliminary investigation to gather more evidence about what happened to Dacera in her final hours and to determine—if it's discovered that she had met with foul play—who may have been responsible.
Upon its completion, the preliminary investigation will determine whether prosecutors would have sufficient evidence to file charges against the suspects in court.
Police initially filed a provisional charge of rape with homicide against all 11 men who had been at the New Year’s party with the flight attendant. Three of the men had been taken into custody, while the remaining eight men remained at large.
Makati City police chief Col. Harold Depositar said shortly after the charges that Dacera had been covered in bruises, contusions and scratches and had signs of sexual assault, according to Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“The victim had lacerations and sperm in her genitalia,” he said.
But some of the details of the case have now been drawn into question.
The three men released from custody Wednesday — John Pascual Dela Serna III, Rommel Galido and John Paul Halili — continued to proclaim their innocence while leaving detention at the Makati City police department, according to CNN Philippines.
“We did nothing wrong,” Halili said in tears.
Galido told reporters that Dacera had been “like a sibling” to him.
“I love her very much,” he said. “I hope her family will see things clearly.”
Another suspect in the case, Gregorio de Guzman, told ABS-CBN News that he was gay and that most of the people at the party had been members of the LGBT community.
“My impression of her is she likes to hang out with us, LGBT members. She’s comfortable with us. The entire time she was really comfortable with every one of us,” he said.
According to the Makati prosecutor’s office, Dacera’s cause of death is also not clear.
“No evidence medically or scientifically was presented to prove that the cause of death or the rupture of aortic aneurysm was by reason of the alleged rape,” a resolution from the prosecutor’s office said. “Likewise, if homicide was committed, the person/s responsible is/are yet to ascertained through further evidence.”
An initial autopsy determined that Dacera had died of an aortic aneurysm and showed no traces of seminal fluid, which seemed to contradict the earlier statements made by Depositar.
A second autopsy—requested by Dacera’s family—has been completed but the results of that autopsy have not been made public, ABS-CBN News reports.
Dr. Marichi Ramos, a friend of the Dacera family, told reporters Thursday that the results of the autopsy had been provided to investigators, but would be kept confidential.
"The family has decided to leave it up to the (Philippine National Police) to do further investigation,” she said, adding that additional witnesses have come forward since Dacera was found dead on Jan. 1.
Prosecutors have said they are also still waiting for the results of DNA analysis and toxicology reports that could provide additional insight into the case.
What authorities do know is that Dacera checked into the City Garden Hotel at 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 with Galido, Dela Serna, Louie De Lima and Clark Rapinan, according to CNN Philippines.
The group began to celebrate the impending New Year around 10 p.m. that night. Galido told authorities that Dacera was drinking tequila and rum coke as the festivities began. The group was also joined by Gregoria De Guzman, Valentine Rosales, Mark Anthony Rosales, Jammyr Cunanan and Eduard Madrid.
Halili was the last to arrive, joining the group around 1:45 a.m.
Surveillance footage showed Dacera moving to a new room with at least three men. She was barefoot and holding a glass, according to The New York Post. She’s also seen kissing a man in shorts with a backward-facing baseball cap.
According to authorities, the final time Dacera was captured on the footage alive was 6:23 a.m. A male called the hotel’s front desk at 12:25 p.m. to request assistance for Dacera, who had been found unconscious in the bathtub. She was later pronounced dead at the Makati Medical Center.
The case has earned international attention and prompted boxing legend turned Philippines senator Manny Pacquiao to offer a $10,000 reward in the case. Pacquiao told DZRH News that he had been a family friend of Dacera and her family.
Pacquiao, an advocate for reinstating capital punishment in the Philippines, said he believed Dacera’s case highlighted why the death penalty was needed, according to ABS-CBN News.
“What I don’t like most of all is rape with murder so I am pushing for the death penalty,” he said.
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