Killers of 2 U.S. Agrarian Advisers Get 30-Year Jail Terms in El Salvador

Associated Press

Two former national guardsmen linked to right-wing death squads have each been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murders of two Americans and a Salvadoran land reform official, the court secretary said Friday.

The secretary, asking not to be identified by name, said the sentences were passed Tuesday against Jose Dimas Valle and Santiago Gomez Gonzalez, both former corporals, but no public announcement was made. The two were convicted of the killings Feb. 13 by a five-member jury after a one-day trial.

The defendants had confessed to killing Mark David Pearlman of Seattle, Michael P. Hammer of Potomac, Md., and Rodolfo Viera on Jan. 3, 1981, but said they were acting on orders from their superiors. Gunmen opened fire on the three as they sat in the coffee shop of the Sheraton Hotel here.

Pearlman and Hammer were advisers to the government on a land reform program that expropriated large holdings for distribution to the poor, and Viera headed the Agrarian Reform Institute that was overseeing the project.

Judge Rolando Calderon Ramos of the 5th Penal Court sentenced the former guardsmen to 12 years for each death, but Salvadoran law sets a maximum penalty of 30 years, according to the court secretary.

During the trial, Prosecutor Juan Jeronimo Castillo said the victims were slain by a death squad from the "sadly famous intelligence unit of the National Guard."

Defense lawyer Luis Arevalo Rivas acknowledged the defendants' role in the killings but said, "They are not guilty of that plot woven in high spheres. They were the artificial arms that executed it."

The former guardsmen testified that they acted under orders of army Capt. Eduardo Alfonso Avila, former Lt. Rodolfo Lopez Sibrian and Hans Christ, a wealthy businessman. The courts found there was lack of evidence for prosecution against those three.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World