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Church Asks To Pardon Nun Killers

April 23, 2000

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ In a plea for compassion, San Salvador Archbishop Fernando Saenz asked the government Sunday to pardon two former soldiers convicted of raping and killing four U.S. religious workers in 1980.

In a press conference following Mass, Saenz called for a pardon for former national guardsmen Carlos Palacios and Francisco Contreras, who have served 19 years of their 30-year sentences.

``Let us have mercy and pity for them. They have demonstrated their repentance,″ Saenz said.

The two are among five former soldiers convicted of the December 1980 rape and murder of Roman Catholic nuns Ita Ford, Maura Clark and Dorothy Kazel, as well as social worker Jean Donovan.

The three other soldiers were freed in 1998 under a law that shortened most prison sentences in the country to relieve prison crowding. They said at the time they had killed the women on the orders of superiors who were never prosecuted.

The two remaining servicemen were not eligible because of misconduct in prison. They asked congress on March 2 for a similar amnesty, but prosecutors say they are ineligible for early release because they allegedly participated in jail uprisings.

The families of the victims said they believe the women were targeted because officials suspected they sympathized with leftist guerrillas during the 12-year civil war that started in 1979.

In May 1999, the victims’ families filed a federal lawsuit against Jose Guillermo Garcia, 65, the former defense minister of El Salvador, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, 61, the former director general of the Salvadoran National Guard.

The lawsuit alleges that the two men, who have lived in Florida since 1989, were part of a chain of command that ordered and covered up the killings.

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