A KEY witness in a murder trial told a court in Cantabria this week how she had discovered the rotting head of the victim, Jesús María Baranda, in a box that she had been asked to look after by Carmen Merino, her then-neighbour. Merino is facing up to 25 years in prison for allegedly decapitating her partner.

The bizarre case dates back to 2019, when the witness, María Carmen Mendoza, finally decided to open the box that her neighbour in the municipality of Castro Urdiales had given to her for safekeeping. The accused had told her friend that it contained sex toys, and that she wanted it to get rid of it before the Civil Guard came to search her house in relation to the disappearance of Baranda earlier that year.

Speaking in court on Tuesday, Mendoza explained that she received the package “at the end of April or start of May”, when Baranda had been missing for some weeks, according to Spanish daily El Mundo

It wasn’t until September 30, however, that Mendoza finally decided to open the box. Press reports originally stated that this was due to it smelling bad, but she denied this in court, saying she did so because she was “sick, really sick” of it being there.

“I took it out of the plastic bag, and I took off the wrapping paper,” she told the court. “Then there was a black plastic bag, which I untied […], another plastic bag, which I untied…”

The witness explained that she had to undo a series of thick refuse bags as well as a cosmetics bag before she finally made the grizzly discovery. “That was when I saw part of the head,” she said. 

She then ran to find her sister, according to her account, and her brother-in-law. When the latter saw the contents of the box, he immediately told her to call the Civil Guard. 

The last time that she saw the accused, Mendoza explained, she said to her: “I will never forgive you for what you did to me.” 

The rest of Jesús María Baranda’s body was never found, but press reports at the time suggest that Merino may have disposed of the headless corpse by giving it to her cleaning lady in a number of rubbish bags, who then unwittingly threw the evidence away.

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