Ex-Guatemalan commander faces trial in Riverside over massacre

Opening statements began Tuesday in Riverside in the trial of a former Guatemalan soldier accused of concealing his role in a massacre when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

A federal prosecutor told jurors in Riverside that Jorge Sosa took part in the killing of 160 villagers during Guatemala’s civil war, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities want to strip him of his citizenship, claiming he lied on his citizenship application. But Sosa’s attorney says he did not conceal his past when he applied for U.S. asylum in 1985.


Sosa is one of four former Guatemalan special forces soldiers arrested in the United States in connection with the killing of more than 200 people.

Sosa, who was arrested in Canada and extradited last year, has said he was not in the village at the time of the killings.

Federal prosecutors say Sosa was one of the commanders of a special patrol that descended upon the tiny village on Dec. 7, 1982, after the military suffered an ambush.

Men, women and children were bludgeoned with a sledgehammer, their bodies falling into a well. Sosa fired a rifle and threw a grenade into the well to kill any victims who were still alive, according to federal court filings.

Sosa sought asylum in the U.S. after fleeing Guatemala in 1985 and was denied. He went to Canada instead. He later obtained a green card granting permanent residency status after marrying a U.S. citizen, and applied for naturalization in 2007.

Sosa, who previously lived in Riverside County, said in a letter that he disclosed his membership in the Guatemalan military when he sought asylum in the U.S.

If convicted of making a false statement and procuring naturalization unlawfully, Sosa also could face up to 15 years in prison. Guatemalan authorities say they will seek to have Sosa extradited to face charges for crimes against humanity.

Other soldiers accused in the Dos Erres killings have faced prison time in the U.S. and Guatemala.


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