A doctor was found guilty of stealing a newborn baby from her mother in Spain decades ago but was acquitted by a Madrid court on Monday because too much time had elapsed.
Gynecologist Eduardo Vela, 85, was found to have abducted Ines Madrigal at birth in 1969. But the doctor was acquitted because the court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.
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Madrigal is one of hundreds of babies Vela is suspected of having stolen from their parents and supplied to infertile couples during and after the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
In recent years, more stories have emerged of babies being removed from families viewed as Republicans, and given to others loyal to Franco's fascist regime. Some are believed to have been sold.
The sinister political practice that began after the Spanish Civil War is believed to have continued as recently as the 1990s.
Case could open door to thousands of 'stolen babies'
Madrigal plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and if upheld could open the door to thousands more cases of stolen babies going to court.
"I have a sweet and sour feeling. Obviously I am happy because they recognize that Vela did all he did," Madrigal told reporters outside the court on Monday.
"But I didn't think the judges were going to accept the argument of the statute of limitations. Because I was not aware until 2010 that in Spain there was a network that stole and sold babies at a national level," she said.
The court considers Ines' 18th birthday in 1987 as the date to start counting the 10 years in which the crime of illegal detention could be prosecuted. However, Madrigal didn't pursue charges against Vela until 2012, by which time the court says, the staute of limitations had run out.
Indeed, many of the allegations related to the stolen babies have failed to reach the courts because some of the alleged crimes have took place too long ago.
Madrigal's mom: Vela 'gifted' baby
Vela has for years denied any wrongdoing in Madrigal's case. He has claimed in the past that he only helped women who wanted to put their children up for adoption and never pressured any mother to do so.
However, the woman who adopted Madrigal -- Ines Perez, who died two years ago -- told CNN in 2012 that Vela gifted her the baby for having looked after a boy.
Perez told CNN in 2012 that on the day Madrigal was born, Vela called her to the maternity clinic where he worked for a "surprise."
When she arrived, he placed a newborn baby in her arms and handed her a falsified birth certificate, Perez claimed.
Perez told her daughter of her origins when she turned 18, and always supported her in her mission to find her birth mother.
Remembering her mother on Monday, Madrigal said, "Wherever she is, I know there is a bit of her here. I am sure she is happy because she hated the idea that Dr. Vela made her look like a liar."
Vela is not the only person who has been named in connection with Spain's stolen babies. A nun, Sister Maria Gomez, appeared in a Spanish court in 2012, accused of snatching an infant from her birth mother and putting the child up for an illegal adoption in 1982. She appeared in court as a suspect but died just days before her trial officially opened.