Rios Montt’s Defense Attorneys Try to Impede Genocide Trial

Last week in Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt’s defense attorneys presented an action aiming to prevent their client’s trial from re-opening on January 11, 2016 as scheduled. The former head of state is facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, together with his then head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, for their role in the death of 1,771 Mayan Ixiles between March 1982 and August 1983.

Jaime Hernandez and Luis Rosales, Rios Montt’s attorneys, lodged the appeal before the appeals court first chamber on Monday, September 28. They argued that according to medical experts’ reports, their client does not have the mental capacities necessary to face trial and that continuing with the judicial process would infringe upon his right to defend himself.

When ordering the trial against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez to re-open on January 11, 2016, the high-risk court also decided on August 25 that special procedures will apply, allowed by Guatemala’s legal system when the defendant is unfit for trial. The law provides that a guardian can be appointed to represent the defense, and the trial can be conducted behind closed doors. Such a trial cannot result in criminal sanction, but can result in the application of a security measure, such as admission to a psychiatric institution, usually applied to defendants who represent a threat to society.

The appeal court has not indicated when it will respond to the latest appeal by Rios Montt’s lawyers. The civil parties are also expected to appeal the court’s decision from August 25.

Meanwhile, six persons have been arrested in relation to the death of attorney Francisco Palomo, whowas leading Rios Montt’s defense team.  Palomo was killed by hitmen in broad daylight on June 3, 2015. The six suspects are being kept in pretrial detention while the Attorney General’s office completes the investigation.

Palomo had been involved in many of Guatemala’s most politically fraught trials and was well known in the country.

The suspects were arrested on September 14, 2015. Ten days later, preliminary judge Wendy Colona decided that there was enough evidence to believe that the arrested could have been involved in the prominent lawyer’s death.

José Gonzalez, Gerber Lopez, Erick Tacen, Edgar De Leon, and Isaac Alvarez will face charges of murder and participation in a criminal organization. According to the investigation, conducted by an elite team assigned to the case, the five defendants were involved in a criminal organization that received money to kill individuals. They are allegedly also responsible for the death of another lawyer and a businessman, all killed between June 2014 and August 2015.

The sixth arrestee, Miguel Gomez, is a former policeman who faces charges for abuse of authority. Prosecutors allege that he gave information to the group of killers to help them cover up their criminal activities while he was serving for the National Civil Police.

The judge gave three months to the Attorney General’s Office to complete its investigation. The investigation has not yet revealed the identity of the person or persons who paid the suspects in return for killing Polomo.

Judge Carol Patricia Flores Is Transferred

On September 24, the Supreme Court of Justice decided to transfer Judge Carol Patricia Flores. Flores was the preliminary judge of group A of the high-risk court and has been responsible for controversial decisions. The decision does not however specify where she would be transferred.

On April 30, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Attorney General’s Office filed a request with the judiciary to impeach Carol Patricia Flores and lift her immunity. According to preliminary investigations, CICIG and the prosecutors found that her assets exceed her purchasing power based on her monthly income.

On July 30, the Supreme Court of Justice endorsed investigative judge Jaime Amilcar Gonzalez’s recommendation and unanimously decided to lift Judge Flores’ immunity from criminal prosecution. Since then, Judge Flores has excused herself from hearing seven cases within her jurisdiction where CICIG was involved as a party, thus delaying justice in those cases.

The Supreme Court’s decision to transfer Flores was taken following a report from the Judicial Disciplinary Board, which concluded that Flores has failed to impart swift and effective justice. Judge René Lopez has been assigned to replace her.