Salvadoran Found Liable for 1980 Romero Murder

U.S. Judge Decides in Lawsuit

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FRESNO, California, SEPT. 6, 2004 ( A federal judge found a former captain of the Salvadoran air force guilty of the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

U.S. District Oliver Wanger on Friday found Alvaro Rafael Saravia liable in a civil suit over the killing. Saraiva was the right-hand man to reputed death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson.

Now dead, D’Aubuisson had organized death squadrons and paramilitary groups made up of civil and military members who carried out murders and other human-rights abuses in El Salvador for political reasons.

The judge, who labeled the assassination of Archbishop Romero a «crime against humanity,» ordered Saravia to pay $10 million in damages — $2.5 million in compensatory damages to a relative of the archbishop and $7.5 in punitive damages.

Last September, the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and the firm Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe presented a lawsuit against Saravia, who at the time was residing in Modesto, California, for his alleged role in the assassination plot.

The lawsuit was launched under a little-known law that allows foreign nationals with U.S. connections to be sued for crimes such as torture or genocide.

The 62-year-old archbishop was killed by a sniper on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in San Salvador.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of a relative of the deceased archbishop, alleged that Saravia obtained weapons, vehicles and other elements for the killing, ordered his driver to take the assassin to the chapel where Archbishop Romero was killed, and paid the assassin once the crime was committed.

According to the CJA, both the U.N. Truth Commission as well as the Inter-American Human Rights Commission concluded, after separate investigations, that Saravia was involved in planning and carrying out the murder. Saraiva, who is in hiding, was found liable in absentia. He faces deportation if arrested.

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