Inocente Orlando Montano, a former colonel and deputy security minister in El Salvador, has been on trial in Spain for the 1989 murders of six Jesuits, a housekeeper and her daughter at a Catholic university.
Montano was charged with planning the murder of the eight victims but pleaded not guilty.The trial resumed in Madrid on July 8 with testimony from Yushy René Mendoza, a former Salvadoran lieutenant.
Mendoza claimed that, following a meeting with the high command including Montano, Colonel Guillermo Benavides ordered soldiers to kill the Spanish Jesuit Fr Ignacio Ellacuria and any other witnesses. Fr Ellacuria was then rector of the Central American University in San Salvador and had played a prominent role in coordinating peace talks during the Salvadoran civil war.
“Benavides told me that he had to execute the order that had been received and Montano was one of the persons that gave the order to eliminate Ellacuria,” Mendoza said. “He told us the situation of the country was critical because the guerrilla group was well positioned and, to counteract it, a decision had been made to take drastic measures because, if not, the war would be lost.”
The following week the court heard from expert witness Terry Lynn Karl, a professor at Stanford University in California. Testifying on July 13, Karl agreed with Mendoza’s previous testimony on the point of the high command’s collective decision to murder Fr Ellacuria. “The decision to kill a person of such prestige is not taken … without the consensus of the high command,” she said.
Karl went on to describe the murders as “premeditated” because they were part of a longstanding campaign against the Jesuits and the Church. “It started in 1977 in El Salvador and was a constant attack. I have an appendix of 34 attacks against the Church,” Karl said, adding that “Montano himself carried out many of these attacks.”
On July 15, the final day of the trial, Montano rejected the expert testimony as a “stream of lies”; there was no “preconceived plan or intention or desire to murder the fathers. It was a very big mistake made by the soldiers. I deny any responsibility on the part of the high command.”
During his closing remarks, Montano stressed the sincerity of his Catholic faith and offered his condolences to the family of Fr Ignacio Martín-Baró, one of the victims of the attack.
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