Slain women's siblings testify against generals
Defense begins in Salvadoran officers' trial
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
When she went there, to watch her sister's defiled remains consigned
Salvador's troubled earth, Julia Clarke Keogh found the Bible that Sister Maura
Clarke always carried.
It lay in her room at the cathedral in Chalatenango, the place
where Sister Maura
ministered to the poor -- a simple room adorned only with a cross.
The Bible was on a desk, she recalled, ``waiting for me to pick it up.''
Her words moved some in a West Palm Beach federal courtroom to tears.
Clarke died with two other nuns and a Catholic lay worker on Dec.
2, 1980, when
armed Salvadoran military men kidnapped, raped and shot them. Tuesday, one
sibling from each of the four families testified against two former Salvadoran
generals whom they're suing in civil court.
``You always blame yourself,'' Keogh told the jury. ``What was she doing there?''
Then Keogh answered her own question. She described entering the
courtyard, and seeing the sacks of beans and rice.
``So many women came up to me and said, `Your sister did so many
Then it was attorney Kurt Klaus Jr.'s turn. He represents former
Defense Minister José Guillermo García and former National Guard Director
Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova.
For the first time since the trial began Oct. 10, members of the
attended, including Vides Casanova's three brothers from El Salvador, his wife,
Marie Lourdes Vides, and their two, sneaker-wearing teenage daughters.
Vides Casanova lives in Palm Coast, near Daytona. García lives in Plantation.
``I'm sorry for your loss,'' Klaus told each of the siblings as
they left the stand.
Then, in opening arguments that he had deferred until the plaintiffs finished their
case, the Miami lawyer told the jury that evidence would show the generals had
no control over squads terrorizing Salvadoran civilians during the early 1980s, and
couldn't be blamed for the women's deaths.
He also suggested that those who killed the women could have had
motivations unrelated to the class struggle fueling that country's 12-year civil war,
which cost 75,000 lives.
Five Guardsmen were convicted of the crimes and served short prison
Among Tuesday's evidence: the transcript of a 1981 conversation between the
group's leader and one his superiors, a man secretly wearing a wire.
In it, the anonymous superior tells subsergeant Luis Antonio Colindres
who confessed to the murders: ``Just like I don't want them [his superiors] to f---
with me, I don't want them to f--- anyone working for me. Do you understand what
I am telling you?''
The lawsuit contends that they couldn't have acted without the
or consent. But Klaus implied that the Guardsmen might have had base motives.
``Even in El Salvador in 1980, people were victims of crimes all
the time, and they
were not always political,'' Klaus said.
``Are we ever going to find out who was responsible for their
deaths?'' he asked.
``We want to find out the truth for the sake of the families, El Salvador, and the
By the time he's through, he said, ``the evidence will show that
there was no way
[the generals] could have communicated with [the assailants] that night.''
Before calling García to the stand, Klaus observed that
the families might refuse
to believe ``that there had to be a bigger reason'' for their loved ones' murders.
``But I don't think that's what the evidence shows.''
Bill Ford, brother of slain Sister Ita Ford, disagrees, and said
so every way he
knew how, as he took the stand.
The New York trial lawyer has relentlessly pursued information
for 20 years that
might reveal the high-command officers he's convinced planned the murders.
In sometimes bristly exchanges with Klaus -- who asked each sibling
if he or she
had sought legal remedies in El Salvador -- Ford belittled the notion that justice
was available there. ``Every judicial officer we spoke to said he would be killed'' if
he agreed to take the families' case.
Ford described how the families met with State Department officials
Salvadoran lawyers in 1983 and 1984 -- lawyers who, the officials said, might be
willing to act as special prosecutors in a Salvadoran criminal case.
``One wanted $150,000,'' Ford recalled. ``A $50,000 fee. He needed
bribe the jury, and $50,000 to relocate his family'' out of the country.
He described how the ``brave'' judge who sentenced the Guardsmen
for his courage.
``He was harassed for years by the army. I made sure that the
Embassy put in a call in to him once a week to make sure he was alive.''