GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- The 2-year-old case of slain Roman
Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi has three new suspects and a pair of
resurrected old ones -- but apparently no fresh evidence.
Gerardi, 75, was beaten to death with a concrete block in his garage on
April 26, 1998, two days after he presented a report blaming the military
for thousands of deaths during Guatemala's civil war. Police made
quick arrests, but in the months since, suspects have come and gone.
Jailed are a retired military colonel; his son, an active sergeant; a priest's
assistant; a former member of a former president's security team, already
convicted of another killing; and a cook who lived at the seminary where the
murder took place.
Judge Flor de Maria Garcia, who issued the arrest warrants that put all
suspects in jail last month, said it was her job "to make sure the prosecutors
had the ability to investigate the correct suspects."
What she won't say is what part of the evidence, much of it almost two
old, prompted her to order the arrests.
For the Rev. Mario Orantes, Gerardi's former assistant, and Margarita
Lopez, the cook, the jail stays are their second.
They were arrested within weeks of Gerardi's killing. The bishop was slain
days after releasing the Catholic Church's human rights report blaming the
military for most of the 200,000 deaths during Guatemala's 36-year civil
Investigators initially ignored any possible military link, instead saying
an inside job -- a crime of passion involving an affair between Orantes and
Gerardi, and a lot of conspiracy behind closed doors.
"They tried to give this case the connotation of a crime of passion like
always do with important crimes here," said Frank La Rue, executive
director of the Human Rights Legal Action Center. "This was clearly a
political crime, and to suggest anything otherwise was ridiculous and
everyone knew it."
Lopez was released days after her arrest, but Orantes spent seven months
In the meantime, prosecutors summoned international forensic experts and
exhumed Gerardi's body to investigate and ultimately debunk a theory that
Orantes' dog -- a crippled 13-year-old German shepherd -- was in on the
After human rights groups protested that authorities were overlooking
military links to the crime, Orantes was released a year ago. He fled to the
United States in October after complaining of threatening telephone calls,
according to his lawyer, Jose Toledo.
The case was at a standstill.
Enter new President Alfonso Portillo, who promised to find Gerardi's killer.
Two weeks after Portillo's January 14 inauguration, his hand-picked team
prosecutors and the third judge to preside over the case announced that a
re-examination of the evidence had led them to issue the new arrest
The investigation now appears to hinge on the May 1998 testimony of
Ruben Chanex, a homeless man who said he watched men try to remove
Gerardi's body from the seminary after the killing.
Chanex said Jose Obdulio, a former presidential security guard who had
been convicted of killing a milkman in 1996, had warned him not to come
around the park that night because somebody would die in the seminary.
Chanex said Orantes kicked shut a seminary door that night.
He also implicated Sgt. Byron Lima and his father, retired Col. Disrael
Chanex said the younger Lima may have videotaped the killing.
Further complicating matters, Chanex has more ties to the case than simply
star witness. Though he says he never entered the seminary that night, some
of his blood, along with that of Orantes, was found in Orantes' room.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.