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Priest Charged in Guatemala Killing

October 22, 1998

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Prosecutors in Guatemala formally charged a Roman Catholic priest on Wednesday in the killing of an archbishop who headed the archdiocese’s human rights office.

The Rev. Mario Lionel Orantes Najera is accused in the killing of Archbishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, who was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his church residence in April.

Gerardi’s death occurred two days after he released a report blaming the military for most of the deaths in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

Orantes has maintained his innocence, and church and human rights officials have accused prosecutors of arresting the priest to divert blame from the military.

Orantes, who was living in Gerardi’s residence at the time of the killing, was arrested July 22 because of evidence his dog had bitten the bishop before he died.

Prosecutors, who had until Thursday to formally file charges or release Orantes, have not given a motive for the killing.

On Tuesday, church officials criticized the investigation and called for the priest’s release.

Archbishop Victor Hugo Martinez, speaking on behalf of the national Episcopal Conference, accused prosecutors of ignoring ``the hidden forces who were behind the crime.″

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