US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA305

GERARDI SUPREME COURT APPEAL

Identifier: 03GUATEMALA305
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA305 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-02-04 23:41:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: PHUM PREL KJUS GT
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


 
UNCLAS GUATEMALA 000305 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM, PREL, KJUS, GT 
SUBJECT: GERARDI SUPREME COURT APPEAL 
 
REF: A. 02 GUATEMALA 2649 
 
     B. GUATEMALA 248 
 
1.  SUMMARY: On January 31, the Supreme Court Chamber of 
Appeals held the public audience of the latest appeal in the 
Gerardi case.  The Archbishop's Office on Human Rights (ODHA) 
and the Public Ministry presented their appeals of the fourth 
appeals court's October 8, 2002 decision (Ref A) to annul the 
2001 conviction and order a retrial.  The Ambassador attended 
the judicial proceedings to show USG interest in justice 
being done in this case.  The judges are expected to render a 
decision by February 6.  End Summary. 
 
2.  Immediately after the Fourth Appeals Court's October 8, 
2002, decision to annul the 2001 sentence condemning four men 
for the murder of Bishop Gerardi, the ODHA presented its 
appeal to the Supreme Court.  The public reading of this 
appeal, as well as the oral arguments of both the defense and 
the prosecution, was held on January 31.  Under Guatemalan 
law, the Supreme Court's Chamber of Appeals has three working 
days to come to a decision on the appeal. 
 
3.  The courtroom at the Supreme Court was two-thirds full, 
with the bulk of the audience being international human 
rights advocates and various Guatemalan civil society 
notables.  The Public Ministry presented its appeal first, 
followed by the ODHA.  Both parties argued that the 
overturning of the 2001 sentence was illegal because the 
Fourth Appeals Court did not review all of the evidence. 
They maintained that while Ruben Chanax Sontay's testimonies 
from preliminary depositions and the actual 2001 trial were 
contradictory, the rest of their evidence from the 2001 trial 
was solid. 
 
4.  All five defense lawyers, including representation for 
Gerardi's absolved maid, Margarita Lopez, presented their 
rebuttals following the prosecution.  They argued that the 
appeals process is a necessary part of the justice system and 
that the Fourth Appeals Court's decision should be respected. 
 Margarita Lopez's lawyer argued that even if a new trial was 
to take place, his client should be removed from the 
proceedings because she was absolved in the 2001 trial. 
 
5.  Immediately following the oral arguments, the court 
adjourned for three working days of deliberations, set to 
conclude on February 6.  The decision will not be released in 
a public audience, but given privately to the parties. 
 
6.  The Ambassador greeted human rights activists and press 
after the judicial proceedings.  His attendance at the trial 
was noted in all four leading dailies, and variations on his 
statements regarding support for justice in Guatemala were 
widely quoted.  For example, El Periodico quoted the 
Ambassador as saying his presence at the Gerardi appeal was 
meant as a "sign of solidarity for justice in Guatemala."  At 
a separate event, the Ambassador later met one of the four 
presiding justices, who was pleased by that explanation for 
the Ambassador's presence in court. 
 
7.  COMMENT: We find the recent death of a Gerardi case 
witness extremely troubling (Ref B), and will be alert to any 
signs that the intimidation of witnesses will impact the 
ruling.  The ODHA appeal is based on legal technicalities 
over procedures followed by the lower appeals court, which 
ordered a retrial based on discrepancies in the testimony of 
one witness.  If the original guilty verdict is confirmed, 
the defendants will return to prison.  If the 2001 sentence 
is annulled, a retrial will put witnesses at risk and delay 
(if not set back) justice.  While ODHA is confident its 
argument will save the earlier conviction, we 

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