CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A judge dismissed murder charges against Venezuela's last military dictator on Friday, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

Marcos Perez Jimenez, 85, who suffered a stroke last week in Spain, where he lives in exile, had been charged with masterminding the 1954 killing of political opponent Lt. Leon Droz Blonco, in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Judge Mildre Camero ruled Friday that the charges, first brought in 1972, were no longer valid since too many years have passed. A higher court must now ratify that decision.

Perez Jimenez governed Venezuela from 1948 until 1958 when he fled to the Dominican Republic amid a popular uprising that ushered in Venezuelan democracy.

Extradited back to Venezuela, he spent five years in jail during investigations of corruption charges before being released and moving to Spain in 1968.

Newly elected President Hugo Chavez, himself the leader of an unsuccessful military coup in 1992, created a stir by inviting the former dictator to his Feb. 2 inauguration _ an invitation Perez Jimenez declined, apparently because of the pending trial.

Economic and social troubles in Venezuela in recent years have stoked nostalgia for political strongmen such as Perez Jimenez, whose regime is remembered by some Venezuelans more for a sense of public order and large-scale building projects than for its political repression.