Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Prosecutor Investigating Gerardi Murder Flees

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Prosecutor Investigating Gerardi Murder Flees

Article excerpt

Priest suspect also leaves Guatemala

Two prominent figures in the investigation of the murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City have fled Guatemala, each citing fears for their personal safety.

The special prosecutor leading the investigations into the murder resigned and fled into exile in the United States with his family, sources in Guatemala City confirmed Oct. 7. Celvin Galindo told a news agency that he decided to resign after having received "multiple death threats" since taking on the case in January. Galindo, his wife and three children left early Oct. 7 for an undisclosed location in the United States, where it is believed he will seek political asylum.

A week later, Fr. Mario Orantes, a priest who was once accused of the murder and held for eight months, fled to an undisclosed country after receiving anonymous telephone calls.

The president of the Guatemalan bishops' conference, Archbishop Victor Hugo Martinez Contreras of Los Altos, Quezaltenango-Totonicapan, said Galindo was forced into resigning because "he was leading the investigations along file path toward the truth.... The road he was taking was getting near the truth." The future of the investigations, he said, would depend on "someone courageous" being appointed in his place.

Galindo was the second prosecutor to resign from the inquiry into the murder of Gerardi, bludgeoned to death outside his parish home in Guatemala City April 26, 1998.

But unlike his predecessor, Otto Ardon, who frequently clashed with attorneys of the archdiocese before quitting at the end of fast year, Galindo quickly lent credence to the church's theory that Gerardi, a veteran human rights campaigner, was killed for political motives.

Two days before his death, Gerardi had issued a report on abuses committed by the security forces during Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Church and human rights leaders believe that the bishop's killing was a yendetta by high-ranking army officers. On the initiative of Galindo, the official investigations led by Ardon were redirected toward examining the role of the military.

"We were pleased with how he was leading the investigations," Martinez said.

In May Galindo took the unprecedented step of ordering DNA tests on 17 people, including 12 military officers and Orantes. Full results of the tests, carried out by the FBI, have not yet been made public.

In late August, following evidence from a key witness in the army, Galindo ordered the inspection of the entry and exit registers at the base of the elite presidential guard in the capital. Sources close to the case have said that, before resigning, Galindo had enough evidence for issuing arrest warrants for several leading suspects.

Martinez said, "It seems that there are elements and evidence" for an arrest, and that was what those implicated "were trying to avoid."

In September, Galindo publicly denounced death threats and surveillance by members of the army aimed at him and members of his staff.

"We knew that he could resign" as a result of the threats, Martinez said. …

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