Warlord Sentenced to Life in Prison for Politician’s Murder
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian warlord Samir Geagea was convicted today of murdering a rival politician and sentenced to life in prison, in the first trial of a militia leader since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.
Soldiers were posted around the courthouse and throughout Beirut and its suburbs to prevent any violence.
The ruling by Judicial Council, Lebanon’s highest court, culminated an eight-month public trial that stirred political and religious sensitivities as Lebanon rebuilds from the devastating conflict.
Geagea, commander of the now-defunct Lebanese Forces, the Christians’ main force during the war, was convicted of killing politician Dany Chamoun, his wife and two young children in October 1990.
The ruling by the five-judge panel cannot be appealed. Only the president can commute the sentence.
Chief Justice Philip Khairallah, who chaired the panel, said the crime was punishable by death but the court made the penalty life in prison at hard labor. He gave no reason for that decision.
Neither Geagea nor two convicted accomplices attended today’s session, possibly for security reasons. Eleven other people were tried in absentia, and received prison terms ranging from 10 years to life.
Geagea’s wife, Strida, stared at the judges as the court president read the ruling.
To reporters she later said: ``That is the decision,″ then rushed out of the courthouse, leaving army troops scuffling with reporters pushing to get closer to her car.
Pandemonium erupted outside the courthouse as soon as word of the verdict filtered out. A group of about 200 Geagea supporters, shouting his nickname ``Hakim! Hakim!″ clashed in fistfights with soldiers guarding the area.
Hakim is Arabic for doctor. Geagea’s nickname comes from his days as a medical student before he turned militiaman during the war.
Geagea, 43, was arrested April 21, 1994, and has been in a maximum-security jail at the Defense Ministry. He faces other murder charges in the Feb. 27, 1994, church bombing that killed 11 worshipers and injured 60.
The balding Geagea, widely feared in Christian areas during the civil war, has repeatedly declared his innocence in both the Chamoun murders and the church bombing.
He claims the government was behind the church bombing and used the attack to frame him and disband his Lebanese Forces, which voluntarily disarmed in mid-1991 as part of government efforts to restore state authority.