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Guatemala Frees 1 in Activist's Killing

Court overturns murder conviction of colonel. 'There was no justice,' the victim's sister says.

May 08, 2003|From Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan appeals court Wednesday freed an army colonel who was the only military officer found guilty of ordering the 1990 killing of human rights activist Myrna Mack.

Judge Wilebaldo Contreras ruled that there wasn't sufficient evidence against Col. Juan Valencia Osorio and overturned an October murder conviction for which he had been sentenced to the maximum 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors and Valencia's accusers can appeal to the Supreme Court. But Valencia, the former director of Guatemala's feared security force, will be released in the meantime.

The 39-year-old anthropologist was stabbed 27 times in daylight outside her Guatemala City office Sept. 11, 1990.

Human rights groups claimed that she angered the military by publishing a 1990 report blaming government anti-insurgency campaigns for killing hundreds of Maya Indians during the country's 1960-96 civil war. Fighting killed 200,000 Guatemalans before a peace accord was reached in December 1996.

In February, the Guatemalan government accepted responsibility in her death. Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez said Guatemala sent a letter to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights acknowledging its "institutional responsibility."

Noel de Jesus Beteta, a member of Guatemala's presidential guard, was convicted of the murder in 1993 and is serving 25 years in prison.

During a trial that was monitored by rights groups last year, a three-judge panel convicted Valencia of ordering Beteta to kill Mack. It acquitted two other army officials.

Helen Mack, who founded a human rights legal center in her sister's name and spent more than a decade fighting to bring the case to trial, said she was devastated. "Here there was no justice," she said.

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