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Judge Orders Freedom for Men Charged in Slayings of Americans

November 13, 1987

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Three suspects charged in the 1985 slayings of six Americans, including four Marine guards at the U.S. Embassy, were ordered freed Thursday under a new amnesty program.

Military Judge Jorge Alberto Serrano ruled the three, said to be leftist guerrillas, should be released under the program providing amnesty for political prisoners, which was enacted as part of the new Central American peace plan.

It was not clear when the three actually would be released from jail.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement, ″As a matter of policy, we believe that those responsible on both the right and left for terrorist acts or crimes against U.S. citizens should not be allowed to escape justice.″

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that while the United States believes the suspects should be prosecuted, it also understands President Jose Napoleon Duarte’s desire to offer the broadest possible amnesty.

Thursday’s ruling was denounced by John R. Handwork of Beavercreek, Ohio, whose son, Sgt. Thomas T. Handwork, 24, was one of the four Marines killed.

″They were murderers. They were not political prisoners,″ the elder Handwork said of the three suspects. ″Their release is a crime.″

The representative of El Salvador’s opposition parties on the National Reconcilation Commission resigned Thursday over what he called the government’s ″irresponsible and unilateral″ handling of the peace plan.

Alfredo Cristiani of the rightist National Republican Alliance said the commission had recommended the amnesty program be studied by all political factions in the National Assembly, but that Duarte had his Christian Democrats push it through.

The National Reconciliation Committee was set up to monitor compliance with the peace plan.

Thirteen people were killed on June 19, 1985 when assailants wearing Salvadoran army uniforms opened fire with automatic weapons on patrons at two cafes in San Salvador’s ″Pink Zone,″ a strip of trendy restaurants and clubs.

The Marines were wearing civilian clothes and were seated at two tables with other young people when the assailants drove up in a red pickup truck, witnesses said at the time.

A little known leftist group, the Mardoqueo Cruz Urban Guerrilla Commandos, claimed responsibility for the massacre. The group is an offshoot of one of the five guerrilla armies that form the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which has been fighting the U.S.-backed government for eight years.

The three men ordered freed today were identified as Juan Miguel Garcia Melendez, Jose Abraham Dimas Aguilar and William Celio Rivas Bolanos.

The government has authorized the release of 473 political prisoners since last Friday under the amnesty program.

The program calls for the military or civil judges who had first tried the prisoners to review their cases and decide who will receive amnesty letters.

The amnesty law, approved late last month, applied to those ″who have participated as the direct authors, intermediaries or accomplices in the commission of political crimes or common crimes associated with political crimes.″

The peace plan signed Aug. 7 by five of the region’s presidents calls for cease-fires, amnesties, democratic reforms, an end to foreign aid to insurgents and a ban on the use of one country’s territory as a base for rebel attacks on another.

Besides Handwork, the dead Marines were Sgt. Bobby J. Dickson, 27, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Cpl. Gregory H. Weber, 22, of Cincinnati; and Cpl. Patrick R. Kwiatkowski, 20, of Wausau, Wis.

The two American civilians killed in the shootings were: George Viney, 48, of Miami, and Robert Alvidrez, 47, of Lexington, Mass. They were representatives of Wang Laboratories, a Massachusetts-based computer company.

Also killed in the attack were two Guatemalans, a Chilean and four Salvadorans. At least 15 people were wounded.

Duarte announced the arrests of the three suspects in August 1985. At the time, he said seven guerrillas had taken part in the shootings. One guerrilla was believed to have died of injuries suffered during the shootings.

At least 26 Americans, 12 of them U.S. military personnel, have been killed in El Salvador since 1979.

Meanwhile, a Salvadoran working for the U.S. Embassy was kidnapped Thursday afternoon and later found shot to death, according to an embassy spokesman, Joe McManus. Authorities identified the man as Billy Mejico Quinteros and said he was abducted while driving a U.S. Embassy vehicle in the upper-class neighborhood of San Francisco.

McManus described the slaying as ″a senseless kidnapping and murder of a colleague and friend. ... He didn’t carry an arm and he wasn’t armed.″