Latin America & Caribbean

Killers of Venezuelan beauty queen Monica Spear jailed

Monica Spear during the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok on 9 May 2005. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Monica Spear represented Venezuela in the 2005 Miss Universe pageant

A court in Venezuela has sentenced three men to lengthy jail sentences for the killing of Venezuelan beauty queen Monica Spear in January.

The three had pleaded guilty.

Ms Spear, 29, and her British partner, Thomas Berry, were shot dead in January in front of their five-year-old daughter during a roadside robbery.

UN figures suggest that Venezuela has the second-highest peacetime murder rate in the world, but the brutality of the crime shocked the country.

Deadly journey

Prosecutors said the three men were part of a larger gang which targeted motorists along a highway leading from Valencia to Puerto Cabello.

The court said seven other people were still on trial for the crime but had denied the charges.

The sentences for the three men range between 24 and 26 years in jail.

The family, who lived in the US, was on a visit to Ms Spear's home country when they were targeted.

They were travelling at night from the city of Merida to the capital, Caracas, when their car hit a sharp object, puncturing two tyres.

While they waited for breakdown assistance, they were ambushed by the armed gang.

When the couple and their daughter hid inside the car, they were shot at by the robbers.

Ms Spear and Mr Berry died instantly. Their daughter, Maya, was shot in the leg.

The murder of the popular beauty queen, who was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004, prompted demonstrations against the country's high crime rate.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The murder of Ms Spear, who starred in soap operas, shocked Venezuelans
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The arrest of suspects in her murder case made the headlines in the local papers

President Nicolas Maduro promised to respond with "an iron fist" and said he would make tackling crime one of the government's top priorities.

Last week, he announced his government would invest $47m (£29m) to further expand a plan to disarm civilians.

But opposition activists say impunity and corruption remain rampant and accuse his government of doing too little to tackle insecurity.

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