Bones as Witness

After we had been working for several months, the junta—the nine individuals who served as the military dictators of Argentina during this period—were brought to trial, and we were asked to present the forensic evidence at the trial. We were only allotted a couple of hours of testimony. We told the story of the young woman that we had found, and we were able to get her identified as Liliana Pereyra; 21-year-old bank clerk who was seven months pregnant at the time of her disappearance in the city of Mar de la Plata in 1977. When we exhumed the skeleton, we found that the skull was shattered into between 15 and 20 fragments and when we got it together, we could see that the fracture patterns that we observed are very typical of what we see with close-range shotgun blasts to the head. And in the grave scattered amongst these bones, we also found several badly corroded shotgun pellets. This is typical of someone who's been executed with a shotgun. And that was a common means of killing the desaparecidos in Argentina. And this was one reason we selected the case, because a particularly vicious practice of the junta and the death squads in Argentina was that if a female detainee was found to be pregnant, they would keep her alive long enough so that she could have the child. And our testimony contributed to the conviction of the junta, so there was some justice brought to the desaparecidos.