Slain Nuns' Families to Seek Retrial
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Nov. 7 –– The families of four U.S. missionaries
murdered 20 years ago in El Salvador plan to ask for a new trial after
a jury cleared
two former Salvadoran military leaders last week of liability for the killings, their attorney said today.
If a retrial is granted, the relatives would again bring to civil court
the two former generals they blame for the killings Dec. 2, 1980, and the
that led to them.
On Friday, a 10-member federal court jury found that Jose Guillermo
Garcia, 67, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, 62, did not bear "command
for the deaths of Maryknoll nuns Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel and lay volunteer Jean Donovan.
"We are looking at confusion regarding command responsibility, that
the jury had difficulty understanding the legal concept, as a basis for
awarding a new trial," said
Tallahassee lawyer Bob Kerrigan, who provided pro bono legal counsel for the families of the dead women.
Garcia and Vides, who both retired to Florida, served as military leaders
during El Salvador's 12-year civil war. An estimated 75,000 people died
before the war
ended in 1992.
Although five soldiers were convicted in El Salvador in the killings of the churchwomen, the families believed that the soldiers' superiors were involved.
The families filed a civil lawsuit against the generals under the Torture
Victim Protection Act, a U.S. statute that allows victims and their relatives
to seek damages
from those who bear "command responsibility" for the criminal acts of their subordinates.
Kerrigan pointed to repeated questions about command responsibility
that the deliberating jurors submitted to U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley,
who presided over
a federal trial that began Oct. 10.
At least one juror said the six women and four men on the panel may have been confused by the legal underpinnings of the case.
"My view on it is that jury never got past semantics of the word 'effective'
command. There was absolutely confusion," said juror Lilyan Sasson, a West
entrepreneur. "These guys [the generals] were guilty . . . but seven jury members argued that they didn't have effective control over the troops."
© 2000 The Washington Post