Prosecutor in Gerardi Case Flees Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY, JULY 31, 2001 ( The main prosecutor in the case of three army officers and a priest who were convicted of murdering Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera has fled the country because of death threats, Attorney General Adolfo González Rodas said Monday.

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Even before the trial began, attorney Leopoldo Zeissig had special security because of the constant threats he received.

During the investigation, Judge Henry Monroy and attorney Celvin Galindo also left the country and abandoned the case because of threats. Several key witnesses also fled for their lives.

In June, a three-judge panel convicted Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, his son Captain Byron Lima Oliva, former presidential guard José Obdulio Villaneuva, and Father Mario Orantes in the bishop´s death.

The priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison; the three others were each sentenced to 30 years. They are appealing their convictions.

Bishop Gerardi, head of the Church´s human rights office in Guatemala, was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block at his seminary on April 26, 1998. His death came two days after he presented a report blaming the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in the 1960-1996 civil war.

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