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Father Says Contras Killed Son At Point Blank Range

May 5, 1987

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The father of Benjamin Linder, the first American working for the government killed by U.S.-supported Contras, said Tuesday an autopsy report shows the rebels killed his son while he was on the ground wounded.

″What I am telling you is that they blew his brains out at point-blank range as he lay wounded,″ said Dr. David Linder, a pathologist from Portland, Ore. ″Someone, I believe, came up to him, saw him, and instead of taking him prisoner (or) leaving him alone, killed him.″

Linder said he based his conclusions on an autopsy report by a Nicaraguan physician that contradicts reports from witnesses who said the 27-year-old mechanical engineer was killed by grenade fragments April 28.

The son was one of about 200 Americans working with the leftist Sandinista government, which the Contras are fighting with U.S. training and aid.

He was given a hero’s burial Thursday by the government in Matagalpa, 60 miles north of Managua, at a funeral where President Daniel Ortega served as one of the pallbearers.

Sandinista officials say the rebels singled out the younger Linder and killed him in a small village in northern Jinotega province where he was working on a rural electricification project.

The Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN, the largest Contra fighting group, says Linder was caught in a firefight between the rebels and Sandinista militia. There were conflicting reports about whether Linder was armed.

Linder said eyewitness accounts show his son and co-workers were ambushed by the rebels who were hiding in an isolated ravine where the attack took place.

″This was not a chance encounter,″ he said. ″This is murder.″

The father also told reporters the autopsy report shows his son was initially immobilized by non-lethal wounds in the back of his legs and his left forearm and ″was then killed by a gunshot wound to his head.″

He said the examining physician, Francisco Valladares, told him there were powder burns around the entry wound to the head, adding the report also said his son was killed by a high-velocity bullet.

″The powder burns suggest that he was shot at very close range, possibly two feet away or less,″ Linder said.

Linder said the autopsy showed his son’s face had several puncture marks made by an unknown object, but he discounted the possibility of torture.

″Even though I have limited regard for the Contras, I can’t imagine them just sitting there poking at the poor kid’s head,″ Linder said.

The report was signed by Dr. Bayardo Gonzalez Vargas, the pathologist for the northern Matagalpa province. Linder said he did not know if a second autopsy was conducted by Vargas or whether he merely wrote a summary of earlier findings.

Last week, a report by Witness for Peace, an American group opposed to U.S. support for the rebels, said witnesses it interviewed said Linder ″was killed instantly when a small group of Contras fired five grenades and then opened fire″ on Linder’s group.

Ed Griffin-Nolan, who represents Witness For Peace in Nicaragua, told The Associated Press after the autopsy became public that the witnesses had seen Linder fall when grenades exploded and apparently wrongly assumed that was what had killed him.

Griffin-Nolan said he believed the autopsy findings were more reliable than the witnesses’ reports.

″The Contras who killed Ben were hired guns,″ said a brother, John Linder, who also was at the news conference. ″The real killers are in Washington, enjoying a pleasant lunch or perhaps a game of golf, while my brother lies dead at age 27. They are brutal, and they keep their hands clean by sending others to do their dirty work.″

Elisabeth Linder, the slain man’s mother, and Alyson Quam, his girlfriend, also appeared at the press conference. Miriam Linder, Benjamin’s sister, said the family did not know when it would return home.

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