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Guatemalan linked to bishop’s murder released

July 20, 2012

From the print edition

GUATEMALA CITY – Retired Guatemalan Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada was released from prison Monday after serving more than half of a 20-year sentence for participating in the murder of Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi on April 26, 1998. 

Lima, 77, arrived in court Monday in a wheelchair to sign paperwork preceding his release. During the process, the retired military official criticized his country’s justice system and said he was innocent of the charges that landed him in jail for more than a decade. 

Last Friday, Judge Javier Sotomora ordered Lima’s early release for good behavior during his prison stint, although in 2008, Lima was hospitalized in the Military Medical Center for heart complications. 

The retired colonel was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2000, along with his son, Byron Lima Oliva, also a former member of the military. Both men were convicted of plotting and carrying out the bishop’s murder, along with catholic priest Mario Orantes, who is also serving a 20-year sentence. 

A third military man, specialist Obdulio Villanueva, also was convicted and sent to prison for the crime. He was later killed during a prison riot. 

“I am innocent of these charges, just like my son,” Lima Estrada told journalists before leaving the courtroom in downtown Guatemala City. 

Gerardi, founder of the Guatemalan Archbishop’s Human Rights Office, was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his parish residence at San Sebastián Church, just 200 meters from the Presidential Palace in the capital. 

His murder occurred just three days after he published a report, “Recovering Guatemala’s Historical Memory: Never Again,” which documented more than 50,000 human rights violations committed during the Guatemalan armed conflict from 1960-1996. Most of the crimes were attributed to the armed forces. 

Guatemala signed peace accords in 1996 that ended the civil conflict, which claimed a quarter of a million lives. 

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