The Molina Theissen Trial: Prosecutor Seeks 90-Year Sentence for Benedicto Lucas García

On Monday, May 14, concluding arguments continued in the Molina Theissen trial. Government prosecutor Eric de León presented his concluding arguments, followed by human rights lawyer Alejandro Rodriguez, who represents Emma Molina Theissen. De León called for prison sentences of 50 years against each of the five senior military officials on trial for crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen. He called for an additional 40 years for Benedicto Lucas García, Manuel Callejas y Callejas and Hugo Zaldaña Rojas for the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, who was 14 years old at the time and who remains missing.

The hearing suffered a number of delays. Defense counsel for Hugo Zaldaña Rojas arrived late. Later, a video conference transmission set up for Benedicto Lucas García, who is recovering from surgery, was interrupted in the middle of Rodriguez’s presentation. The hearing proceeded only after the transmission was reestablished.

In addition, the court suspended the session early, at 2:30 PM, and the next session was convened for Thursday, May 17. Still pending are the concluding arguments of Héctor Reyes, who represents the Molina Theissen family, and those of defense counsel. It is expected that Emma Molina Theissen Álvarez de Molina, the mother of Emma and Marco Antonio, and Emma herself, will also address the court. A date has not yet been set for the reading of the verdict.

De León began his concluding remarks by summarizing the events in question: the September 26, 1981 capture of Emma, the torture and sexual violence she endured during and outside of interrogation sessions while she was in military detention, her escape on October 5, 1981, and the formation of a military plan to recapture her the following day, which resulted in the detention and disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio.

De León argued that the witness and expert testimony, along with the official documents, military manuals, and other evidence, prove the accusations against each of the five defendants.

He noted that Lucas García, as army chief of staff, supervised and was a member of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army. The military base in Quetzaltenango (MZ 17) put into practice military checkpoints, which was the result of an order signed by Lucas Garcia that was introduced as evidence. He stated that Callejas y Callejas routinely received information about prisoners of war such as Emma because he served as director of military intelligence.

Witness and expert testimony demonstrated that the MZ 17 served as a clandestine detention center where the military used sexual violence as form of systematic torture. Emma was carrying internal documents of the Guatemalan Workers Party (PGT) and the Patriotic Workers Youth (JPT), making her an important source of information and possible collaborator of the Army, as had occurred with previously captured individuals. Prosecutor De León argued that in Callejas y Callejas’s position as director of intelligence, he supervised the actions and orders issued by his subordinates. The defendant’s subordinates used intelligence to identify who was the “internal enemy:” information they would have passed to him.

De León stated that Zaldaña Rojas, the S2 intelligence officer of MZ 17, knew about Emma’s entry into the base, controlled her, and permitted that she be interrogated under torture. He was also allegedly one of the members of the operation carried out on October 6, 1981 designed to recapture Emma but that resulted instead in the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio.

The prosecutor reminded the court that Emma Theissen de Molina recognized Zaldaña as one of the men who kidnapped her son. De León noted further that as commander of MZ 17, Gordillo Martinez could not have permitted the departure of any of his subordinates without an order from his commanders.

He also argued that the criminal conduct being prosecuted— torture, sexual violence, and enforce disappearance—constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, and are therefore not subject to amnesties or statutes of limitations. He noted that in international law, enforced disappearance is considered a continuous crime until the body of the victim is located, and is not subject to amnesties or statutes of limitation. He also noted that Inter-American Court for Human Rights ruled against the state of Guatemala in 14 cases, one of which is the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio.

De León called for a sentence for each of the five accused of 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity; and 20 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault against Emma. He further called for 40 years in prison for Lucas García, Callejas y Callejas, and Zaldaña for the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio.  He also called for an increase of one-fourth of the total sentence because of the especially egregious nature of these crimes because at the time of their commission, the defendants were active duty government officials in the Guatemalan Army.

In his closing arguments, Alejandro Rodriguez summarized the evidence presented by the witness and expert testimony as well as the documentary evidence, which he said proved that Emma was captured, kidnapped, and was sexually violated and tortured while in military detention. He recalled the different witnesses who saw Emma when she was detained and her identification of Zaldaña Rojas as one of her captors.  He also referred to the different witness and expert testimony, as well as the documentary and forensic evidence, presented in reference to the enforced disappearance of Mark Antonio.

In addition, Rodriguez noted that the torture and sexual violence targeting Emma was not isolated. He recalled several expert reports presented as evidence, which stated that the Army’s senior-most officials created clandestine detention centers. These served as places to interrogate and eliminate members of unarmed political organizations that were not part of the guerrilla movement. This was in accordance with a national security doctrine holding that all manifestations of communism must be destroyed and eliminated.

Rodriguez argued that the five co-defendants participated in a joint criminal enterprise because they acted with a common objective under the national security doctrine, pursuing a counter-subversive war strategy to destroy the enemy. He also noted that article 174 of Guatemala’s criminal code establishes that sexual violence is “especially aggravated” when the perpetrator was in charge of the custody or guardianship of the victim. He referred to several international judgments establishing that sexual violence against a woman who is deprived of liberty is especially grave.  Each of the defendants had the power and capacity, within their corresponding chains of command, to issue orders that would have ceased the torture in sexual violence of Emma, but they did not do so.

Rodriguez called for the court to sentence each of the accused to the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison: 30 for crimes against humanity, and 20 for the crime of aggravated sexual assault against Emma.

The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 17.

Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.