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DE LETELIER v. REPUBLIC OF CHILE

November 5, 1980

Isabel Morel de LETELIER et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The REPUBLIC OF CHILE et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This action is before the Court for a final determination relevant to the attempt of plaintiffs Isabel, Christian, Jose, Francisco, and Juan Pablo Letelier, and Michael Maggio, respectively the widow, sons, and personal representative of Orlando Letelier, and Michael Moffitt and Murray and Hilda Karpen, respectively the widower-personal representative and the parents of Ronni Karpen Moffitt, to obtain judgments by default against defendants Republic of Chile, Juan Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, Armando Fernandez Larios, Michael Vernon Townley, Alvin Ross Diaz, Guillermo Novo Sampol, and Ignacio Novo Sampol, for their alleged culpability for the bombing deaths of former Chilean ambassador Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in September 1976 in Washington, D.C. After careful consideration of the entire record of this case, including the testimony and documentary evidence presented at the June 20, 1980 hearing regarding several of the pending applications for judgments by default, it is apparent plaintiffs have established their right to relief as against all but one of these defendants and thus are entitled to judgments by default in the amounts hereinafter set forth.

 Plaintiffs, either citizens of the states of Maryland or New Jersey, or of the District of Columbia, or of the Republic of Chile, brought this suit asserting various tortious causes of action *fn1" and seeking recompense, pursuant to those statutory enactments governing the survival of actions, D.C.Code § 12-101 (Supp. VII 1980), and wrongful death, id. § 16-2701 (1973), from those they alleged were involved in the deaths of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, both of whom died as a result of the detonation of an explosive device under the driver's seat of Orlando Letelier's automobile as it rounded Sheridan Circle, N.W., in the District of Columbia on September 21, 1976. The named defendants to the action are either a foreign state, or citizens of a foreign state, or citizens of a state other than the states of Maryland or New Jersey or of the District of Columbia.

 As to defendant Republic of Chile, it was served with the first amended complaint on November 17, 1978, pursuant to the procedures set forth at 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4). Upon its failure to answer, a default was entered against the Chilean Republic by the Honorable John H. Pratt on May 2, 1979. Because questions were raised about the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court to entertain this suit against the Republic of Chile under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1601-1610 (1976), after receiving a memorandum on that subject from plaintiffs on March 11, 1980, a memorandum opinion was filed in which it was held that such jurisdiction did indeed lie. Letelier v. Republic of Chile, 488 F. Supp. 665 (D.D.C.1980).

 In June 1980, a hearing was held at which plaintiffs were afforded an opportunity to satisfy the Court that judgments by default should be granted in their favor and against the Republic of Chile, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e) (1976), and individual defendants Townley, Ross, Guillermo Novo, and Ignacio Novo, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). Subsequently, on September 22, 1980, service of the first amended complaint was again obtained upon defendants Contreras and Fernandez in Chile, this time by letters rogatory in accord with Rule 4(i)(1)(B). Defaults then were taken against defendants Contreras, Espinoza, and Fernandez on October 23, 1980, making this action ripe for disposition as to all defendants. *fn2"

 In seeking to establish their claims to relief relating to the tragic deaths of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, the evidence presented by plaintiffs which details the bombing incident is, in the main, derived from the testimony of defendant Michael Vernon Townley under oath at the criminal trial of defendants Ross, Ignacio Novo, and Guillermo Novo in January 1979. *fn3" As related by Townley, an American citizen and a long-time Chilean resident, he first became involved in the events that culminated in the Letelier and Moffitt killings sometime in late June or early July 1976. At that time he was contacted by defendant Armando Fernandez Larios, then a lieutenant in the Chilean Army and an operative of the Chilean intelligence service, the Direccion de Intelligencia Nacionale (DINA) (now known as the Centro Nacionale de Informaciones (CNI)), to arrange a meeting between Townley, then a civilian contract employee of DINA, and defendant Pedro Espinoza Bravo, then a lieutenant colonel in the Chilean Army and Director of Operations of DINA. At the meeting, Colonel Espinoza asked Townley whether he would be available for a special DINA operation outside Chile in the near future. Townley indicated that while he was reluctant to leave the country because of his wife's health, he would undertake such a mission if ordered to do so. At another meeting several weeks later, Espinoza informed Townley that the mission would involve travel to the United States for the purpose of assassinating Orlando Letelier. Entry into the United States, according to Espinoza, was to be accomplished with Paraguayan documents and, to the extent necessary, Fernandez and Townley were to use members of the anti-Castro Cuban exile group, the Cuban Nationalist Movement (CNM), to accomplish the murder.

 In July 1976, Fernandez and Townley went to Paraguay, via Argentina, and, with the help of Paraguayan authorities, obtained Paraguayan passports under assumed names which, in turn, they used to obtain visas to the United States. Because of the apparent uneasiness of DINA officials in Chile over the nearly two weeks it took to obtain the passports and visas, the trip of Fernandez and Townley to the United States using those documents was cancelled and they were ordered to return to Chile, which they did.

 In August 1976, Espinoza again contacted Townley to inform him that the Letelier mission was still scheduled and that Fernandez was already in the United States surveilling Letelier to record his movements and daily patterns. Townley was instructed, as he had been in the earlier meetings, to make the killing appear accidental or a suicide if possible, but that other means, including an explosive or a shooting, could be utilized to eliminate Letelier. Townley also was told that he was to be out of the United States before the assassination took place.

 Townley departed Santiago, Chile, on September 8, 1976, and arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on September 9, traveling under the assumed name of Hans Peterson Silva. Uncontradicted testimony demonstrated that facilities and personnel of LAN Chile Airlines, a foreign air carrier owned and operated by the government of Chile, were used by Townley in connection with the preparation and carrying out of the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt. At Kennedy Airport he met Fernandez and was given a sketch of Letelier's residence and place of employment as well as written information describing the Leteliers' automobiles. Fernandez also gave Townley a verbal briefing on Letelier's daily movements. The two DINA agents then parted and Fernandez returned to Chile.

 On September 15, 1976, Townley went with Paz to the Union City, New Jersey, headquarters of CNM where they received from Guillermo Novo and Suarez a paging device modified for use as a remote control detonator and a shopping bag containing three kilograms of dynamite and one-half pound of plastic explosive. Paz and Townley then proceeded by car to Washington, arriving in the early morning hours of Thursday, September 16, 1976. Once in Washington, they first drove to the vicinity of Orlando Letelier's home to check that general area. They then registered in a motel in northwest Washington. The remainder of Thursday and all day on Friday, September 17, was spent verifying and supplementing the information supplied by Fernandez concerning Letelier's movements and habits; at one point they even trailed Letelier by car from his home to his office at the Institute for Policy Studies. On Friday they also went to a department store in upper northwest Washington and purchased two aluminum baking pans and several rolls of electrical tape to be used in building a bomb and a pair of rubber gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints on their explosive handiwork. Suarez arrived from New Jersey on the morning of Saturday, September 18, 1976, to aid in the preparations, and after Paz and Townley moved to a different motel in northeast Washington across from Suarez's motel, the three made a shopping trip to an electronics store in downtown Washington where they purchased a battery pack and a set of tools to be used for constructing the bomb.

 On the evening of Saturday, September 18, 1976, Townley built the bomb intended for the assassination attempt in the motel room he shared with Paz. Paz, Suarez, and Townley then drove to the Letelier house to place the bomb on Orlando Letelier's car. Although it was planned that Paz and Suarez were to take responsibility for detonation of the device on Monday, September 20, they insisted that Townley, as a DINA agent, attach it. After several false starts, Townley succeeded in planting the bomb beneath Letelier's car, which was parked in the driveway of the Letelier home.

 On the morning of Sunday, September 19, 1976, Townley flew from Washington to Newark, New Jersey, and was met by defendant Ross. Over breakfast, Townley gave Ross the full details of his activities in Washington. Ross then drove Townley to Guillermo Novo's ...


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