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Judge, Prosecutors in Jesuit Murder Trial to Leave El Salvador

September 30, 1991

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ The judge and two prosecutors involved in the trial of the soldiers charged with murdering six Jesuit priests will leave El Salvador immediately after sentencing, according to church sources.

A jury convicted two of the nine soldiers accused in the killings on Saturday. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Judge Ricardo Zamora will leave after he sentences Col. Guillermo Benevides and Lt. Yusshy Mendoza.

Two private prosecutors hired by the Jesuits, Henry Campos and Sidney Blanco, told journalists they also will leave El Salvador, to study law.

The sources gave no unequivocal explanation for the three officials’ departure, but officials in sensitive cases in the past have been threatened or killed.

The Jesuit case was particularly sensitive because it marked the first time in El Salvador that military officers have been convicted of human rights violations, despite a continual stream of accusations over the past dozen years.

Jorge Alberto Serrano, a military judge who presided in the trial of a kidnapping ring that included officers and far-rightists, was killed in May 1988. There have been no arrests in that case.

The priests, who were teachers at the Jesuit-run University of Central America, were forced from their quarters and shot to death by soldiers on Nov. 16, 1989.

Their housekeeper and her teen-age daughter also were killed, apparently to eliminate witnesses.

Many within the military considered the Jesuits to be leftist sympathizers. Several of the accused said they were acting under orders to kill the priests and eliminate witnesses.

Jose Maria Tojeira, the head of the Jesuit order in Central America, said he was surprised that only two of the nine had been convicted.

″We thought there would be a guilty verdict for all of them,″ he said in a television interview. ″We thought the crimes were sufficiently proved.″

The jury, which was kept hidden during the trial for its own protection, acquitted two lieutenants and five enlisted men, including one tried in absentia.

Some of the acquitted soldiers had confessed to shooting the priests.

The army patrol responsible for the killings came from the military school, which Benavides directed.

The judge has 30 days to sentence Benavides and Mendoza. The maximum penalty is 30 years in prison.

The Jesuits and others have contended that the killings were ordered by senior military officers, and that those responsible for the orders and an attempted cover-up have gone free.

Church and diplomatic sources said Zamora may go to England, where he has received invitations to speak on legal matters at several institutes and universities.

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