Rios Montt’s Defense Attorney Killed by Hitmen in Guatemala City

Prominent Guatemalan attorney Francisco Palomo died yesterday, June 3, shot to death in broad daylight while driving his car a block from his office. According to witnesses, Palomo was killed around 1:00PM by two men on a motorbike who followed Palomo’s car and fired at him repeatedly before fleeing. Palomo, who represented former military head of state Efraín Rios Montt, died at the scene with at least 12 gunshot wounds. Investigators described the killing as a “direct attack” on Palomo. The identity of his killers remains unknown.

Palomo, who was 63 years old, was involved in many of Guatemala’s most politically fraught trials, including serving on the legal team defending Rios Montt during his 2013 prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity.

He served as an alternate judge with the constitutional court from 2001 to 2005, where he supported a controversial 2003 resolution authorizing Rios Montt to be a presidential candidate, despite a constitutional ban on the election of former coup leaders as president. He also served as a parliamentarian with the Central American Parliament from 2001 to 2006, representing Ríos Montt’s Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party.

Palomo also defended former president Alfonso Portillo on corruption charges, before he was extradited to the United States to serve time. He represented former interior minister Carlos Vielmann on charges of extrajudicial killing. Vielmann currently faces trial in Spain for his role in the death of 10 detainees in 2005 and 2006.

In 1997, he represented former interior minister Danilo Parrinello, after Parrinello was charged in connection with the 1994 killing of a student leader Mario López by the now-defunct national police. He represented agricultural businesses which, in 1995, challenged the president of the Peace Commission (COPAZ) for negotiating with guerrillas at the close of the armed conflict.

Family, friends, and colleagues arrived at the scene of the crime. Among them was Zury Ríos, daughter of Ríos Montt and presidential candidate in Guatemala’s September elections. Interior minister Eunice Mendizábal was also present and confirmed that the government assigned an “elite” investigative team to respond to the killing.

Others offered their condolences, expressed outrage at the killing, and demanded accountability. Portillo offered his “condolences and solidarity,” and described “each violent death as the slow death of [Guatemala].” Marco Sagastume, president of the country’s bar association, described Palomo as an honorable man and called for the legal fraternity to defend the right to life.

A coalition of human rights organizations condemned the killing as an affront to all those who engage with the justice system. Prominent human rights lawyer Edgar Perez, who was on the other side of the courtroom from Palomo during the genocide trial, also paid his respects and described the crime as incomprehensible. The Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque condemned the crime and called for an “immediate” investigation.