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Case No. 96 | G.R. No. 123819 | November 14, 2001 | Ynares-Santiago, J.

Art. 14 | Aggravating Circumstances

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. STEPHEN MARK WHISENHUNT

FACTS:
On November 19, 1993, accused-appellant was formally charged with the murder of Elsa Santos-
Castillo. During the trial the following circumstances were successfully proven by the prosecution
without a shadow of doubt, to wit: that Elsa Santos Castillo was brought to accused-appellants
condominium unit on September 23, 1993; that on September 24, 1993, accused-appellants
housemaid was looking for her kitchen knife and accused-appellant gave it to her, saying that it was
in his bedroom; that on September 25, 1993, accused-appellant and Demetrio Ravelo collected the
dismembered body parts of Elsa from the bathroom inside accused-appellants bedroom; that
accused-appellant disposed of the body parts by a roadside somewhere in San Pedro, Laguna; that
accused-appellant also disposed of Elsas personal belongings along the road going to Bagac, Bataan;
that the mutilated body parts of a female cadaver, which was later identified as Elsa, were found by
the police and NBI agents at the spot where Demetrio pointed; that hair specimens found inside
accused-appellants bathroom and bedroom showed similarities with hair taken from Elsas head;
and that the bloodstains found on accused-appellants bedspread, covers and in the trunk of his car,
all matched Elsas blood type. On January 31, 1996, the trial court promulgated the appealed
judgment, convicting accused-appellant of the crime of murder, sentencing him to suffer the penalty
of reclusion perpetua, and ordering him to pay the heirs of the deceased actual damage, moral
damages, exemplary damages and attorneys fees.

ISSUE: Whether or not the trial court is correct in appreciating the crime to be murder with qualifying
circumstances of abuse of superior strength and outraging and scoffing at the victims person or
corpse?

RULING: YES
Abuse of superiority is present whenever there is inequality of forces between the victim and the
aggressor, assuming a situation of superiority of strength notoriously advantageous for the aggressor
and selected or taken advantage of by him in the commission of the crime. The fact that the victim
was a woman does not, by itself, establish that accused-appellant committed the crime with abuse of
superior strength. There ought to be enough proof of the relative strength of the aggressor and the
victim. Abuse of superior strength must be shown and clearly established as the crime itself. In this
case, nobody witnessed the actual killing. Nowhere in Demetrios testimony, and it is not indicated in
any of the pieces of physical evidence, that accused-appellant deliberately took advantage of his
superior strength in overpowering Elsa. On the contrary, this Court observed from viewing the
photograph of accused-appellant that he has a rather small frame. Hence, the attendance of the
qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength was not adequately proved and cannot be
appreciated against accused-appellant.

However, the other circumstance of outraging and scoffing at the corpse of the victim was correctly
appreciated by the trial court. The mere decapitation of the victims head constitutes outraging or
scoffing at the corpse of the victim, thus qualifying the killing to murder. In this case, accused-
appellant not only beheaded Elsa, he further cut up her body like pieces of meat. Then, he strewed
the dismembered parts of her body in a deserted road in the countryside, leaving them to rot on the
ground. The sight of Elsas severed body parts on the ground, vividly depicted in the photographs
offered in evidence, is both revolting and horrifying. At the same time, the viewer cannot help but feel
utter pity for the sub-human manner of disposing of her remains. In a case with strikingly similar
facts, the Court ruled that Even if treachery was not present in this case, the crime would still be
murder because of the dismemberment of the dead body. One of the qualifying circumstances of
murder under Article 248, par. 6, of the Revised Penal Code is "outraging or scoffing at the person or
corpse of the victim.

The decision of the RTC finding accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder, and
sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS on
damages and civil indemnity.