In a landmark decision that promises to remake Guatemala's war-torn political landscape, a court has convicted three military officers and a priest for the murder of a Roman Catholic bishop.

The court also ordered government prosecutors to investigate others who may have been involved in the killing.

On June 8, retired Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva, and Sergeant Jose Villanueva each received 30-year sentences for murdering Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City. The prelate, a champion of human rights, was beaten to death in April 1998, just two days after releasing a report blaming the military for most of the abuses committed during the country's 36-year civil war, during which 200,000 people died.

Father Mario Orantes, a priest who shared a residence with Gerardi, received a 20-year sentence for complicity in the murder.

The bishop's housekeeper, Margarita Lopez, was acquitted of a charge that she helped destroy evidence of the killing.

"All of Guatemala is happy because of this significant step towards eliminating impunity," the Bishop of El Quiche, Julio Cabrera, said. "And achieving justice in this case gives us hope that we can get justice for crimes committed against ordinary people. We only received justice in this case because the victim was a bishop. Now we need justice in the cases of the tens of thousands of victims who were poor."

The verdict was the result of a long and tortuous process. Since Gerardi's death three years ago, six witnesses, a prosecutor, and a judge linked to the case have fled the country in fear of their lives. There have been numerous threats against those seeking to bring the case to trial. A judge's home was bombed the night before the trial opened in March. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.