The Miami Herald
March 23, 2001

Chaos halts Guatemalan bishop trial

 GUATEMALA CITY -- (AP) -- A trial for the murder of a Roman Catholic bishop, widely viewed as a test of Guatemala's justice system, stumbled through a chaotic first day on Thursday.

 A night after a bomb exploded at a judge's house, two suspects fought to keep from the courthouse, claiming death threats. Just as the trial finally started, it was
 recessed when one claimed he was having a heart attack.

 Bishop Juan Gerardi, 75, was bludgeoned to death on April 26, 1998, in the garage of his northern Guatemala City seminary two days after he issued a report implicating
 Guatemala's military in the heavy majority of the 200,000 deaths that occurred during the war.

 After nearly three years of bizarre theories, missing evidence and constant reports of death threats, prosecutors said they would prove that a current and former army
 officer, a member of the presidential guard, a priest and a seminary cook came together to silence the head of the Roman Catholic human rights office.

 But chief prosecutor Leopoldo Zeissig never got his chance Thursday.

 Three judges opened the trial before about 700 spectators in the theater-style courtroom, but immediately announced a recess.

 Retired army Col. Disrael Lima -- a former head of military intelligence -- and his son Capt. Byron Lima tried to avoid coming to court.

 They claimed they had received death threats and struggled against police as they were pulled from their jail cells. The younger Lima was stabbed in jail in September.

 ``I don't think any military guy can get a fair trial here,'' said the Limas' attorney, Roberto Echeverría. ``With our past in Guatemala, many people think the army is
 automatically guilty.''

 The younger Lima eventually appeared wearing a blue Guatemalan army T-shirt that proclaimed in English ``If I advance, follow. If I stop, support me. If I fall back, kill me.''

 As he was led into the courtroom, he bellowed, ``We have enemies!'' at reporters and accused the church human rights office of harboring ``hidden communists.''

 Lima's father claimed he had a heart attack on the way to the courthouse and never appeared. After a two-hour examination, a court-appointed doctor announced that
 Lima was suffering only from ``extreme nervousness.''

 Judges suspended the trial until today.

                                    © 2001