New Twist in Salvadoran Case : Suspect in Marine Deaths Apparently in Jail at Time

Times Staff Writer

One of seven men hunted by government officials for his alleged role in the Zona Rosa cafe attacks last June that killed 13 people apparently has been in prison here for over a year with a paralyzed arm and only partial use of his left leg, it was learned Monday.

Jose Antonio Lemus Figueroa, 18, whose name appears on a government wanted poster, says he was captured in the province of San Miguel in February, 1984, and taken the following June to La Esperanza men’s penitentiary, known as Mariona. The prison warden confirmed that Lemus has been there since June 5, 1984.

“I was already here when it happened,” Lemus said in an interview at the prison.

Lemus said his injuries--caused by a piece of shrapnel lodged in the right side of his head--would have made it impossible for him to participate in the June 19 attack even if he had been free at the time.

Last week, President Jose Napoleon Duarte and most of the military high command announced at a press conference the capture of three suspects in the slaying of four off-duty U.S. Marines and nine other people at outdoor cafes in the fashionable Zona Rosa (Pink Zone) section of the capital.


7 Still Being Sought

They said that a guerrilla was among those killed the night of the shooting and that seven others, including Lemus, still had not been captured.

A rough sketch of a man who looks vaguely like Lemus appears on a government poster with his name and pseudonym “Walter.” The government accuses him of participating in a “security and containment” group the night of the shooting, saying it was his job to “neutralize the reaction” of security guards at the Brazilian Embassy across the street from the cafes.

When asked Monday about the discrepancy, a Salvadoran army spokesman, Lt. Col. Carlos Aviles, said that the man on the poster and the man in jail are two different people.

“There are two people with the same name,” Aviles said. “The man in Mariona with the same name and same pseudonym had nothing to do with the case. The person we are looking for is completely distinct.”

In a press conference two days after Duarte’s, Willian Celio Rivas Bolanos, one of the three captured suspects, admitted to being one of the gunmen who killed the Marines and said that “Walter” was among the group that carried out the attack.

Attack Led by ‘Walter’

Another of the suspects in custody, Juan Miguel Garcia Melendez, said “Walter” was the boss of a four-man command in the capital.

Lemus admitted to being a combatant member of the Central American Revolutionary Workers Party, the group that claimed responsibility for the Zona Rosa killings, and said that he had used the name Walter. But he said he did not know why he would be named as a participant in the slayings.

“Maybe they got some people who know me and they gave them my name,” Lemus said.

Lemus spoke with a slur, apparently a result of his war wound. He said the shrapnel in his head was from an aerial bomb dropped in the battle in which he was captured.

Lemus said he has been afraid since his name appeared on the list of wanted men. “I am worried that they will kill me,” he said.

Lemus is quartered in a section of Mariona with about 400 political prisoners. Dr. Eduardo Antonio Espinoza, another political prisoner in the jail since April, said, “There are 400 witnesses who can testify that he (Lemus) was here” during the Zona Rosa attack.

Dr. Miguel Angel Orellana, another political prisoner, charged that Lemus and others were named by the government “because they had to come up with something because of the pressure from the United States and (President) Reagan.”

The Revolutionary Workers Party has said that none of the three captured suspects took part in the attack.