BUENOS AIRES: Eight Argentine rugby players accused of beating a teenager to death outside a nightclub three years ago in a crime that shocked the nation, apologized at their trial on Thursday.

Defense attorney Hugo Tomei asked the court in Dolores, a city 220 kilometers (136 miles) south of Buenos Aires, for the “acquittal” of the eight defendants aged between 21 and 23.

Tomei insisted that the prosecution, which has requested life imprisonment for the defendants, had not “proven the plan to kill” and said the victim Fernando Baez was not defenseless during the assault.

Following an argument between two groups of people inside a nightclub in the popular seaside resort of Villa Gesell on January 18, 2020, the eight defendants allegedly attacked Baez, an 18-year-old law student, after they had been ejected by door staff.

The players from a small provincial club in Zarate, north of Buenos Aires, allegedly attacked Baez from behind and then beat him to death on the ground.

Images of the attack were caught on surveillance cameras, and by the telephone of one of the defendants.

“This hurts me a lot. We never intended for something like this. I want to apologize,“ said Maximo Thomsen, 23, identified by prosecutors as one of the ring-leaders, as he broke down in tears.

Other defendants said “I apologize,“ “I’m sorry,“ “there was no intention to kill,“ and “there was no plan” to murder Baez.

“I’m not moved by their crying because they killed my son,“ Graciela Sosa, Baez’s mother, told the court.

She and Baez's father Silvino Baez are both immigrants from Paraguay.

On Wednesday, prosecutors said the attack was “premeditated” and amounted to “doubly aggravated homicide” since it was not committed in self-defense.

They added that witnesses had heard the players shout racist insults at the victim as they beat him.

But while acknowledging the attack, Tomei argued on Thursday that it “could be framed as assault in a fight” which carries a sentence of between two and six years, or “simple homicide” which is punishable by eight to 25 years in prison.

He said it would “never be possible to know who killed” Baez.

A verdict is expected on February 6, court officials said on Thursday.

The attack struck a chord in Argentina. It sparked protests in several cities, and prompted the South American country's rugby authorities to institute behavioral courses for almost 4,000 players of the game.

In a nation marked by wide social inequality, rugby is traditionally played and watched by the wealthy. Baez's father is a bricklayer and his mother a caregiver. - AFP