Doctor abducted newborn girl nearly 50 years ago – but won’t be punished, court rules

An 85-year-old gynecologist in Spain was responsible for stealing a newborn nearly 50 years ago – but he won’t be convicted because the statute of limitations has expired, a court ruled Monday.

The Madrid court said Eduardo Vela was responsible for abducting Ines Madrigal in 1969 and forging official documents before the newborn was handed to her adoptive parents. It’s the first verdict in connection to the wide-scale child trafficking that took place during Spain’s 20th-century dictatorship under Gen. Francisco Franco.

However, Vela, the director of a Madrid clinic considered to be at the epicenter of the scandal, was cleared of any charges because Madrigal did not make her complain until 2012 – more than 10 years after she had become of legal age and well past the statute of limitations on the charge of abduction.

Vela, who faced more than 11 years in prison, had denied all the allegations during the trial.

Madrigal, who learned at 18 that she wasn’t living with her biological parents, argued that she couldn’t have lodged her complaint against Vela any earlier because she only learned about the scheme in 2010, when her adoptive mother told her about it.

DNA tests confirmed the account. Madrigal’s biological parents were never found.

Madrigal, now 49, said she said the verdict was “bittersweet” and she would be appealing to the country’s Supreme Court.

“I’m happy because the judges are acknowledging that there was theft, that I was taken away from my mother, but I didn’t think they would stop short of convicting him,” she told reporters, adding that “the judges should have been brave.”

Franco’s right-wing regime waged a campaign to take away the children of poor families, prisoners or political enemies, sometimes stripping women of their newborns by lying and saying they had died during labor. The children were then given to pro-Franco families or the church, who educated the children on the regime’s ideology and on Roman Catholicism.

Madrigal’s was the only case of “stolen babies” — as they are known in Spain — that has made it to the trial stage. Most lawsuits have been rejected in the past by courts for coming after the statute of limitations expired.

Spain only started investigating the “stolen babies” cases a decade ago, when National Court magistrate Baltasar Garzon opened a probe on the more than 30,000 children that were under the care of the regime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.