A murder that sent shock waves through Ecuador’s judicial system took an unexpected turn Tuesday when police announced the victim had more than $3,800 in his pockets when he was shot Monday morning. State attorney Édgar Escobar was gunned down on the sidewalk outside the prosecutor’s office in downtown Guayaquil.
Regional Police Commander Victor Zárate cautioned that the money found on the victim may be coincidental and have nothing to do with the case. “We are making no conclusions at this stage but this is a new factor we must consider,” he said. “The fact that the cash was distributed in five of Escobar’s pockets and was being carried at a time before the banks were open raises questions.”
Escobar’s murder, committed in broad daylight in view of dozens of passersby, drew immediate condemnation from Ecuador court officers and led to call for special police protection.
“Édgar Escobar’s death is both very sad and very horrifying to all of us involved in the judicial process,” Attorney General Diana Salazar said Monday. “This tells us that when one of our own is gunned down, none of us are safe from the criminal gangs.”
Following the murder, the provincial court of Guayas Province ordered all judicial proceedings to be conducted online. “Until we fully understand the details of this case and can insure the safety of our court officers, we are requesting that all judges, prosecutors and public defenders work from home and conduct judicial affairs via the internet.”
According to Salazar, Escobar’s murder appears to be part of an intimidation campaign by criminal organizations on the coast. “The intention is to instill fear in judicial proceedings and those who carry them out,” she said, adding that there have been six attacks on judges and prosecutors so far in 2022, four of them fatal.
Salazar said that Escobar has prosecuted at least three high-profile drug cases, suggesting a connection to his murder.
Police arrested two suspects minutes after the murder and say the shooter was a 16-year-old with with two convictions for theft. “Like other attacks of its kind, this was committed by men on a motorcycle,” Zárate said. “Fortunately, we were able to track the men from the site of the crime and make the arrests.” He added that the driver, a 19-year-old, is also in custody.
Based on “very preliminary” information, Zárate believes the murder was ordered from prison. “We are interrogating the suspects and the conversations lead us to believe there is a connection with prison gang leaders.”
He added: “We are pursuing many leads at this point in the investigation and the money found on the victim’s body is just one of them.”