4 Men Convicted in Murder of Guatemalan Bishop
By Greg Brosnan
GUATEMALA CITY, June 8 -- A priest and three men linked to the Guatemalan
military were convicted today in connection with the 1998 murder of Bishop
Jose Gerardi, who led a truth commission that blamed the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's long civil war.
The convictions by a three-judge tribunal were hailed by civil rights
advocates as a landmark for a nation where the rule of law is unstable
and many officials remain
unwilling to confront the events of the 36-year civil war, which ended in December 1996.
The tribunal handed down murder convictions against retired army Col.
Byron Lima Estrada; his son Byron Lima Oliva, an army captain; and a former
bodyguard, Jose Obdulio Villanueva. It sentenced them each to 30 years in prison. A Roman Catholic priest, Mario Orantes, was sentenced to 20 years as an
Gerardi was found bludgeoned to death April 26, 1998, two days after
releasing the report compiled by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The case
was delayed for
three years as prosecutors, witnesses and a judge fled the country because of death threats.
Members of Guatemalan human rights groups waited all night in a packed
courtroom to hear the sentences. Others held a candlelit vigil outside
with banners bearing
Dressed in a medal-laden military uniform as police led him away in
handcuffs, Lima Oliva, who had remained stone-faced throughout the sentencing,
of taking bribes in the case.
Lawyers for the defendants said they would appeal the sentences.
Testimony at the trial shone a spotlight on a controversial presidential
bodyguard unit linked to postwar military intelligence, to which Lima Oliva
belonged at different times.