Judge Indicts Lieutenant in Death of Photographer
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ A civilian judge indicted an army lieutenant Wednesday in the fatal burning of a photographer during protests against military rule, but transferred the case to a military court and released the remaining soldiers in custody.
Lawyers for the families of 19-year-old Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and a female companion who was critically injured in the July 2 incident denounced the decision by Judge Alberto Echavarria and said they would appeal.
Echavarria said he was transferring the case to a military court because he considers himself ″legally incompetent″ to try the officer, Pedro Fernandez. In Chile, military personnel cannot be tried by civilian courts.
The case now is under the jurisdiction of Santiago’s military judge, Gen. Samuel Rojas, who said he will announce within 48 hours whether he will personally rule in the case.
Rojas had returned in May from Washington, where he had lived nearly 11 years with his mother, Veronica de Negri, a political exile.
In Washington, Mrs. de Negri said in a statement:
″Today for the first time there is official confirmation that all along I told the truth and the government lied. Judge Alberto Echavarria’s formal accusation of homicide against Army Lt. Pedro Fernandez in the death of my son Rodrigo represents a step toward clarifying the truth, namely that the Chilean army burned my son alive.
″But at the same time the case took a giant step backwards with the judge’s decision to declare himself incompetent and to turn the matter over to the military tribunals. I have no faith in military justice in Pinochet’s Chile.
″My demand remains the same: an independent investigation into the murder of my son and the burning of 18-year-old Carmen Gloria Quintana; an independent investigation to include a thorough examination of the role of Lt. Fernandez, of the other 24 Army officers and soldiers detained in relation with the case and released over the past few days; an investigation that will uncover all the guilty, all the accomplices, no matter how high in the ranks of the military regime they may be found,″ her statement said.
Hector Salazar, a lawyer for the families of Rojas and 18-year-old Carmen Gloria Quintana, said Echavarria’s decisions were based only on statements given him by the two officers and five non-commisioned officers who were released Wednesday. Seventeen draftees had been released Friday.
Salazar said the judge virtually accepted the army’s version that the flames that took Rojas’ life started accidentally. According to the army version, soldiers stopped Rojas, Carmen Gloria and several others, and she dropped a bowl of gasoline, starting the fire.
The gasoline, the officers said, had been brought to start a fire to block traffic during two days of protests against the military regime of President Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who took power in a bloody coup 13 years ago.
The army and the government suggested earlier that the fire may have been caused by firebombs the two victims allegedly were carrying.
But Salazar insisted at a news conference: ″Neither Rodrigo nor Carmen Gloria were carrying flammable elements.″
At least 12 witnesses and human rights activists say soldiers doused the youths with gasoline and set them on fire. After a short while, according to those versions, the soldiers extinguished the fires with blankets, loaded their bodies onto a military truck and sped away.
The two victims were later found 10 miles from the working-class district where the incident occurred.
Echavarria ″had the obligation of considering the statements given to him by over a dozen witnesses and especially those given to him by the victims themselves,″ said the lawyer in announcing his appeal. Echavarria questioned Carmen Gloria and Rojas, who survived four days.