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Colombian Nuns Face Trial

July 25, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Two nuns who gunned down an intruder in a convent are less concerned about prison than eternal damnation, their lawyer said Sunday.

Sisters Eva Maria Silva and Luz Adelia Barragan have admitted they fatally shot a man who broke into the El Topo monastery in Tunja, 80 miles northeast of Bogota, last week. But their lawyer, Gilberto Rondon, said they only intended to scare him off.

``They thought they were shooting into the air. They didn’t mean to kill anyone,″ Rondon told The Associated Press. ``They’re very depressed, because although their actions could be justified by human law, they can’t be justified by divine law.″

Investigating noises in a dark cloister, Barragan fired three shots into the shadows before Silva grabbed the gun _ a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver _ and emptied the cylinder.

In the shooting, Severo Mendez was hit twice, in the head and the hand.

The nuns bought the gun in 1981, following a series of attempted robberies. They recently started nightly patrols after six break-ins this year.

Silva and Barragan spent two nights in jail, but are now under house arrest until a date is set for their trial, Rondon said.

For cloistered nun Silva, the court hearing held on Friday was her first contact with the outside world since 1970. Barragan, because she is a convent administrator, is permitted to leave the monastery.

All 25 sisters took vows of poverty upon entering the order, but the convent houses a valuable collection of religious art, including a 16th century portrait of the Virgin of the Miracles, decorated with a gold crown and scepter.

Nuns on patrol have fired the gun several times, Rondon said, but never hit anyone before.

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