Lola Chomnalez in a photo.RR file. HH
Argentinian Lola Chomnalez was 15 in 2014 when she decided to spend the Christmas holidays with her godmother in Barra Valizas, a peaceful seaside resort on the coast of Uruguay. On December 28, he went for a walk on the beach and did not return. Two days later, his body was found half buried in a dune, with stab wounds on his body and signs of asphyxiation. The crime had a huge impact both in Argentina, where Lola lived with her parents, and in Uruguay. There were marches to demand justice with no result. The lack of evidence released the suspects one by one, a dozen during this nearly eight-year investigation. Until now. Last Thursday, the Uruguayan judiciary arrested a 39-year-old man named Leonardo David Sena, who was jailed in 2009 for rape. They found the key in Lola’s backpack, where a towel contained traces of the alleged killer’s blood. After several attempts, the DNA tests were finally positive.
Lola’s parents, Adriana Belmonte and Diego Chomnalez, have dedicated the last eight years of their lives to furthering the investigation of feminicide. They circumvented all sorts of obstacles to keep the file active. The first judge in this case, for example, requested sick leave after focusing all her suspicions on Lola’s godmother and her husband. Days after the judge’s departure, police found the teenager’s backpack containing the prime suspect’s blood and DNA 200 meters from the body.
In May 2019, parents celebrated the arrest of a car attendant named Ángel Moreira Marín, aka El Cachila. The man was arrested as a suspect in 2015 after making an unconvincing statement: he tried to sell Lola a stamp and the young woman became dizzy for no reason. When he felt her pulse, he counted, found that she was dead, got scared and ran away. A fainting was ruled out by the forensic pathologist: Lola was hit in the face, suffered a cut in the neck area and was pushed face down against the sand until she suffocated. Then why was Moreira released? Because his genetic profile did not match the blood found in the Argentine teenager’s backpack. Now he’s in jail for a cover-up.
Lola’s parents never doubted Moreira’s relationship to their daughter’s death, but they knew there was someone else. “We want to play it safe and be careful. I feel many emotions, with relief and hope predominating,” said Adriana Belmonte, the mother, upon learning of the arrest.
Sena’s capture was accompanied by great political pomp. The President of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, personally took care of delivering the good news, paying attention to the damage that the crime had done to tourism in his country, which boasts of being the safest in Latin America. “This at least creates peace in their families and the certainty that maybe a little late at least justice has been or will be done,” he said. He then organized a press conference with his interior minister, Luis Alberto Heber, the judge and the police chiefs in charge of the investigation. “The suspect admitted finding the backpack and stealing money from inside. That’s where we found the DNA,” said Juan Manuel Giménez, the judge in charge of the case since 2017.
The long way of DNA
In 2015, the Uruguayan Science Police compared the genetic profile of the blood found in Lola’s backpack to the entire criminal base, with no results. The long road that led to Sena began five years later, in 2020, after the killing of three marines at a naval base in Montevideo. As the Uruguayan media reconstructed, several DNA tests emerged from this triple crime, which were compared with the files of other murder cases. One of these tests found a match with the profile of the blood kept in Lola’s crime file. The conclusion was that one of the suspects in the triple crime had some sort of relationship with the Argentine teenager’s killer.
Then, in the genetic trail of one of those arrested for the Marines’ murder, a man with a history of injuries and rape emerged. It was Sena, a maternal half-brother who, until this week, worked in a bakery in Chuy, a Uruguayan town on the border with Brazil. Case prosecutor Jessica Pereyra said Sena’s DNA sample matched Lola’s towel 99.9%. The suspect then told the judge that he found the victim’s backpack abandoned on the beach and decided to steal the money. Regarding the blood, he explained that he cut himself on a broken bottle and decided to clean himself with the towel found inside. Sena faces a prison sentence of up to 30 years.