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Archbishop Killers Sentenced in Colombia

January 19, 2005

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A judge on Tuesday found two men guilty of murdering a Roman Catholic archbishop, though the magistrate said the motive for the assassination and who ordered it remained a mystery.

Alexander de Jesus Zapata and John Fredy Jimenez were convicted in the 2002 shooting of Isaias Duarte, the archbishop of Cali and the highest-ranking clergyman ever assassinated in Colombia.

Judge Ruben Dario Plaza said Zapata, who fired the shots, was given a 36-year sentence, while Jimenez, who helped in the planning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Duarte was shot dead after officiating over a mass wedding in a poor neighborhood of Cali, 185 miles southwest of Bogota.

Plaza said in a telephone interview, however, that Zapata and Jimenez likely received orders from others to kill Duarte.

Three other suspects were also arrested shortly after the killing. One was killed in prison, while the other two were murdered after being released for lack of evidence.

Duarte was a vocal critic of Marxist rebels and drug traffickers. A former member of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has said guerrilla leaders ordered the hit, but Plaza said that was never proven.

Colombia has been embroiled in a rebel conflict for 40 years that pits the government and right-wing militias fighting against Marxist guerrillas. Colombia is also the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer.

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