Generals jury seeks guidance for verdict
Slain nuns' kin sue for millions
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
The six-woman, four-man jury considering a wrongful-death case
former Salvadoran generals left the West Palm Beach federal courthouse
Thursday without returning a verdict, but after submitting a flurry of questions
about a complex jury instruction.
At 11:20 a.m. -- two hours into their first day of deliberation
-- the jurors wanted
clarification on the doctrine of command responsibility: the legal basis on which
the families of four churchwomen, murdered 20 years ago, are suing.
The plaintiffs must meet three legal criteria under that doctrine
to prove that José
Guillermo García and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova were complicit in the rapes
and shooting deaths of Sisters Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and
missionary Jean Donovan 20 years ago: that troops under the generals' ``effective''
command -- over whom they actually had control -- had tortured and killed
civilians; that the generals knew, or should have known about the abuses; and
that they did nothing to stop, investigate, or punish it.
Garcia was defense minister and Vides was National Guard director
guardsmen killed the women on Dec 2, 1980.
Jurors asked if they could, or were required to, judge the generals
by any criteria
other than -- or in addition to -- the command-responsibility doctrine.
And, a juror queried: ``Are we being asked to judge [the generals']
the churchwomen, or the people of El Salvador as a whole?''
Defense attorney Kurt R. Klaus, Jr., implored U.S. District Judge
Hurley to deliver yes-or-no answers.
Instead, Hurley offered explanations that seemed to leave the
confused than before.
More than a half-hour later, he directed them back to the jury
room, hoping they
understood that they could consider the women's deaths in context: whether, as
Hurley said, the generals created or tolerated an atmosphere in which
subordinates presumed a ``green light'' to brutalize civilians.
But no, he advised, the plaintiffs didn't need to prove that the
generals had to have
known the identities of specifically targeted victims.
And no, jurors were not to assess the defendants' role in all
of El Salvador's
bloody woes: only the four murders.
If the jury finds that the plaintiffs have satisfied all three
criteria, then, Hurley explained, they must link the generals' actions -- or lack
thereof -- to the murders, in order to award damages.
The women's families are asking $25 million apiece in compensatory
and unspecified punitive damages.
Garcia, 67, who lives in the 7700 block of Northwest 13th Court,
Vides, 62, of Palm Coast, near Daytona, were absent from the courthouse
Deliberations continue this morning.