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Guatamalan Court Overturns Murder Verdict Against Three Military Officers - 2002-10-08

A Guatemala appeals court has overturned the verdict in a high profile trial for the 1998 murder of a Guatemalan bishop.

More than a year after three members of the Guatemalan military and a priest were convicted of the murder of outspoken human rights defender Bishop Juan Gerardi and appeals court has thrown out the verdict and ordered a new trial. The court cites inconsistencies in the testimony of a key witness for the prosecution.

Bishop Gerardi was bludgeoned to death on the doorstep of his parish residence in April 1998.

The death came two days after he released a report attributing most of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances during Guatemala's civil war to the military and paramilitary groups. Guatemala's civil war ended in a 1996 peace accord.

The prosecution and the church has long maintained that his murder was a political assassination, while the defense maintained that the trial was politically motivated. The verdict was heralded last year as the first time high ranking military officers had been sentenced for a rights violation in Guatemala.