Saturday, 2am. Candido, 68, gets in his car and sets off on the seven-hour drive to embrace his son in Florida, in the death row visiting room. Every Saturday, too, Tanya, 34, spends five hours with the love of her life. Just half a Saturday.

Nothing went as planned on June 28, 1994. No one could have predicted Tanya’s big sister coming home at that moment and calling her mother to describe the scene: Tanya, a young girl of 15, in the arms of Pablo Ibar. For two weeks, the family was gripped by scandal – that is, until Pablo was arrested, accused of a triple murder committed on June 28, 1994. It could only be a mistake.

In Connecticut, where he had moved several years earlier after leaving his native Basque Country, Candido received a call from Florida, where his son Pablo lived. The news was devastating: Pablo was accused of a triple murder. The investigation started, stopped, resumed, hanged… Pablo was jailed in a first prison, then in a second one. He went through two lawyers, years went by. In 2000, Pablo was finally sentenced to death.

Candido was in the courtroom. He listened, then could not hear any more, could not understand. The former Jai alai is shattered. “For one year, I saw my son in absolute despair. And then he recovered his strength, it was up to him to comfort me,” Candido remembers. “Aita ez egin negarrik!” Pablo repeated. “Don’t cry, Dad!” Ever since he first learned to speak, Pablo had always called his father “Aita”, which means “Dad” in Basque. “Aita” had made a vow for Pablo: that he would one day become a professional Jai alai player.

“I was impressed by his strength to resist”

Tanya met Pablo at a party and they went on to share an intimate moment. The embarrassing confrontation with her sister happened at the precise time when the triple murder for which Pabol was to be convicted and sentenced to death was taking place. “At first I was defending an innocent man. Then I saw how he fought and I was impressed by his strength to resist. I fell in love with Pablo. I wanted to spend my life with him,” Tanya says.

She broke down when she heard the verdict. Her family’s testimony wasn’t taken in account, even though they knew exactly where he was at the time of the murder. Instead, security camera footage seemed to incriminate him, even though many scientists were unable to identify the person in the video. The murderer’s face could look like Pablo’s, but it could look like anybody’s. Dozens of fingerprints found on the murder scene did not match Pablo’s, nor did the DNA. The members of the first jury could not agree. A second jury was called in, and then a third. Finally, Pablo was sentenced to death.

Once a month, on a Saturday, Candido comes to the visiting room at 9am sharp. At 10, the doors open. The guards removed the chains, Pablo enters the room. “Aita!” he calls out. Half a Saturday goes by so fast… “And I'm so scared of not seeing him again,” says Candido.

For Tanya, this is a weekly ritual. The visiting room, the quick kisses in front of everyone… This is exactly what Pablo did not want for her: the life of a sentenced to death’s wife. But she decided otherwise, and they have been married for 15 years. “Yes, public opinion is killing me. But this is my love, this is my choice. I know other women who are married to death row prisoners like I am. But they are all European,” says Tanya, smiling. Her dream would be to give Pablo a long kiss without anyone watching her. Any day of the week.

Candido’s dream would be to see his son live and help him get the ball back onto the field: a lesson for life, and the golden rule of Jai alai, a sport of strength and skill.

Desislava Raoul

Candido and Tanya Ibar are among the witnesses attending the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty