Did Polly see a murder? Parrot to provide evidence in Argentina trial

A parrot is pictured in Cahuita beach in Limon, Costa Rica, on Sept. 27, 2019. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images

A rape and murder case in Argentina may hinge on the recall powers of one feather-brained witness: the victim’s parrot.

The bird belonged to Elizabeth Toledo, a 46-year-old woman who was killed in a violent attack at her home in San Fernando, Argentina, in December 2018. Authorities have accused two of her male roommates of raping and strangling her based on DNA evidence and bite marks found during the autopsy, the Telam national news agency reports.

Prosecutors say Toledo’s parrot may be able to recall a key piece of evidence in the case after a police officer at the crime scene overheard it mimicking a cry for help.

“Ay, no, por favor, soltame!” the bird said, according to the officer, which translates to: “No, please, let me go!”

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The officer overheard the bird screaming while investigators were combing over the crime scene.

According to La Nacion newspaper, a neighbour also claimed that she once heard the bird say “Why did you hit me?”

The bird has been described as a green parrot, though the exact species is unknown.

A parrot is an unusual but not unheard-of source of evidence for a criminal trial, according to Laurel Braitman, a science historian and writer-in-residence at Stanford University. Braitman studied the bond that parrots form with humans for her book Animal Madness.

“There is a precedent for this,” Braitman told The John Oakley Show in an interview on Wednesday. “They could not testify, they cannot be cross-examined, but what they say can be submitted as evidence.”

A Michigan woman was convicted in the 2015 shooting death of her husband based on evidence from the victim’s parrot. The bird was heard saying “Don’t f–king shoot!” in the victim’s voice after the incident.

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Braitman says a parrot can form a powerful emotional bond with its owner, and it can suffer significant trauma if it sees that owner come to harm.

“I’m sure that witnessing a murder would be very stressful for a parrot,” she told John Oakley. “They’re also more likely to repeat something if there is a person close to them who is speaking with emotional urgency.”

Toledo’s body was found naked at the home she shared with three roommates on Dec. 30, 2018. An autopsy revealed that she had been beaten, raped and strangled.

Miguel Saturnino Rolon, 52, and Jorge Raul Alvarez, 64, are due to stand trial later this year on charges of aggravated sexual abuse, aggravated homicide and gender violence, Telam reports.

Investigators allege that bite marks on the victim’s arms matched Rolon’s dental records.

“It is like a fingerprint,” San Fernando prosecutor Bibiana Santella said.

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Rolon initially reported the death to police and claimed that he found her dead from strangling after returning home from the rugby club, according to Santella.

Both men were living with Toledo at the time.

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A trial is expected to proceed sometime this year, though no date has been set.

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