Three military officials, a priest and a cook are charged in connection with the murder, which has drawn worldwide publicity. But many Guatemalans doubt that those on trial are the only ones responsible for the killing. While defense lawyers are claiming a criminal gang carried out the murder, some Guatemalans suspect high-level military involvement.
"This was a well planned assassination," said Prospero Penados del Barrio, Archbishop of Guatemala City. "Everyone knows who it was, but you can't say because there are no witnesses."
The five people on trial are Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva, Sergeant Jose Villanueva, Father Mario Orantes, who shared with Juan Gerardi the parish house where the bishop was killed, and Margarita Lopez, their housekeeper.
The military officials are charged with extrajudicial execution, Orantes with murder, and Lopez with helping to cover up the crime.
Auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City and head of the archdiocese's human rights office, Juan Gerardi died on April 26, 1998, just two days after releasing a landmark report analyzing responsibility for violence during the country's lengthy civil war, which ended in December 1996. The report laid much of the blame on Guatemala's military.
Bishop Gerardi was attacked in the garage of the San Sebastian parish residence, just a block from the presidential palace. Investigators claim the killer or killers used a large block of concrete, striking Bishop Gerardi's head at least 14 times.
When the trial, which has been delayed a number of times, finally began ...1
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