England (Luton CC)
Nico Bento
Dec 13, 2005 (Bedford)

Amilton Nicolas Bento (aka Nico), a Portuguese immigrant, was convicted of the murder of his 26-year-old Polish girlfriend, Kamila Garsztka. The alleged crime occurred in Bedford, England in or near the River Great Ouse. A CCTV security camera caught Garsztka walking alone on the embankment of the river toward Priory Lake which adjoined the river. Garsztka's coat, scarf, and shoes were found by the river bank about an hour later. Bento reported Garsztka missing and pestered police to step up their search for her and keep him informed. He told police Garsztka had left her handbag in his apartment, which police later retrieved. Seven weeks after she went missing, canoeists found her body floating in Priory Lake.

Garsztka had talked of suicide to various individuals. There was no direct evidence that she was murdered as no marks were found on her body. Nevertheless she could not have drowned herself as no water was found in her lungs. It is possible she could have been strangled with a soft ligature that did not leave marks. It is also possible that she could have died of hypothermia in the frigid water.

During Bento's trial a prosecution expert testified that the security video of Garsztka taken on the night of her murder showed she was walking with a handbag over her shoulder. This alleged handbag could not clearly be seen in the video, but allegedly there was a line of discoloration on the video due to the strap of the handbag. Since the handbag was later found in Bento's apartment, the prosecution argued that Bento killed Garsztka then returned with the handbag to his apartment. The defence team did not present any evidence to refute the prosecution expert. Bento was sentenced to life in prison.

Evidence later emerged that the police were told by a succession of British experts that no handbag could be found in the security video. They subsequently found an American expert named Casey Caudle who was willing to tell police what they wanted to hear. Caudle testified against Bento. After photos from the security video, provided by Caudle, were shown by the American news media, an American video expert began to question Caudle's work. Caudle ended up being discredited and thrown out of LEVA, the professional video analysts association to which he belonged. He subsequently committed suicide in Aug. 2008.

In Dec. 2008, a reconstruction of the security video was made with the same camera under the same conditions as the original video. Further analysis of the reconstruction video and the original video produced no consensus among experts that Garsztka was or was not carrying a handbag. There is also some doubt that the woman in the original video was Garsztka.

In Feb 2009, Bento's conviction was overturned and a retrial was scheduled for the following July. However, the prosecution subsequently decided against a retrial as there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.  (BBC Video) (Google)  [8/09]