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Guatemalan Court Reduces Sentence in Killing of Catholic Bishop


An appeals court has reduced the jail time for two military officers previously convicted of the high profile, 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who headed the Catholic Church's human rights office in Guatemala.

The court secretary read the appeals court ruling and sentence for the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi to a packed and stuffy Guatemala City court room.

Army Captain Byron Lima and his father, retired Colonel Byron Disrael Lima, got 10 years knocked off their 30 year jail sentences and had their convictions modified from murder to accomplice to murder. The 20 year sentence for the bishop's assistant, Father Mario Orantes, who was originally convicted as an accomplice, was not changed. The fourth man convicted for the murder, former presidential guardsman Obdulio Villanueva, was killed two years ago in a prison riot.

Juan Gerardi was a Roman Catholic bishop and champion of human rights who was bludgeoned to death on April 26, 1998 on the doorstep of his parish home. Two days earlier, the bishop released a report attributing the vast majority of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances in Guatemala's armed conflict to military and paramilitary groups.

Guatemala's 36 year war between leftist guerrillas and the military ended in a 1996 peace accord.

The first ruling in the case, handed down in June 2001, was the first time high ranking military officers were convicted for a political crime.

Despite the appeals courts modification of the original ruling and sentence, officials from the human rights office of the Catholic Church, maintain the case is groundbreaking.

But Byron Lima continues to proclaim his innocence. He says the appeals court ruling was a miscarriage of justice and that the judges were partial and subject to political pressure. He says that he is going to take the case to the Supreme court, because he hasn't committed a crime.

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