October 21, 1998
Guatemalan prosecutors formally charge priest in bishop's killing


                  GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Prosecutors in Guatemala formally charged a
                  Roman Catholic priest on Wednesday in the killing of an archbishop who
                  headed the archdiocese's human rights office.

                  Judge Isaias Figueroa Medina ordered the Rev. Mario Lionel Orantes
                  Najera to remain in jail and await trial on charges of killing Bishop Juan
                  Gerardi Conedera.

                  Church officials say Orantes is innocent and have urged his release. A
                  church spokesman, Monsignor Efrain Hernandez, called Wednesday's
                  actions "lamentable."

                  A day earlier, Archbishop Victor Hugo Martinez criticized the investigation
                  and accused prosecutors of ignoring "the hidden forces who were behind the
                  crime." Both church and human rights officials have accused prosecutors of
                  arresting Orantes to divert blame from the military.

                  Gerardi was found bludgeoned to death in the garage of his church residence
                  in April. His death occurred two days after he released a report blaming the
                  military for most of the deaths in Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended
                  in 1996.

                  Orantes, who was living in Gerardi's residence at the time of the killing, was
                  arrested July 22 because of evidence his dog had bitten the bishop before he

                  Prosecutors have not given a motive for the killing.

                  Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.