New Trial Ordered in Murder of Bishop Gerardi

Appeals Court Says Testimony Wasn’t Weighed Properly

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GUATEMALA CITY, OCT. 10, 2002 ( A Guatemala City Court of Appeal overturned the sentences of three military men and a priest for the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, and ordered a new trial.

The court ordered the trial for retired Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva, Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva and Father Mario Orantes.

In June 2001, judges of a lower court sentenced the three military men to 30 years in prison for the killing, and Father Orantes to 20 years for his role as an accomplice.

Those judges said the murder was linked to Bishop Gerardi’s work with a report that faulted the military for many of the human rights violations in the 1960-1996 civil war.

The appeals court explained its decision by saying that the lower court failed to evaluate properly the testimony of key prosecution witness Rubén Chanax.

The four defendants will remain in prison until the new trial. No date has been set for the trial.

The archdiocese’s Human Rights Office criticized the court decision. «We do not agree with the decision,» Nery Rodenas, director of the office, told the Associated Press. «We had a certain reservation in regard to the members of the court, but now we will analyze the steps we will take.»

Auxiliary Bishop Gerardi, a known defender of human rights, was killed two days after publishing «Guatemala, Never Again,» a report that documents over 55,000 violations of human rights, most of them attributed to the Army, during the civil war.

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