Massacre details take front stage at Calif. trial

AP News
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Posted: Sep 27, 2013 3:42 AM
Massacre details take front stage at Calif. trial

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — When the federal agents showed up at Jorge Sosa's Southern California home, his wife was mystified. Later, an Internet search disclosed that her husband was allegedly implicated in the slaughter of 160 Guatemalan villagers during that nation's decades-long civil war.

Sosa fled the home and the couple later divorced but if the ex-special forces officer hoped to escape his past, he failed.

On Thursday, two former soldiers in his unit wrapped up two days of gruesome testimony about the 1982 massacre in the hamlet of Dos Erres.

Sosa isn't charged with war crimes but federal prosecutors contend he lied to conceal his past on his 2007 U.S. citizenship application. If convicted, he could lose that citizenship and wind up in federal prison for up to 15 years.

A former sergeant, Cesar Franco Ibanez, recalled for jurors what one of the commanding officers of the unit sent to Dos Erres yelled at him as he took a woman to her death.

The officer said the task "was only for men," Franco Ibanez, who is living outside Guatemala as a protected witness, said in Spanish through an interpreter.

The remarks echoed testimony a day earlier by another former sergeant, Gilberto Jordan. After soldiers were ordered to kill everyone in the village, Jordan took a boy who was about 3 years old — the same age as his son — and sobbed as he walked toward a well to throw him in, Jordan recalled for the court.

In earlier testimony, the two men testified to killing people, seeing blindfolded women beaten with sledgehammers before being tossed into the well, and to seeing Sosa, then a second lieutenant, shooting a rifle into the well and hurling in a grenade.

Sosa was living in the Riverside County community of Moreno Valley in 2010 when authorities searched his home in connection with the massacre.

Maria Ortiz, his wife at the time, testified that following the search she did an Internet search and discovered the allegations of his involvement.

Not long after that, Ortiz said, Sosa vanished. She came home to find he had left behind his car and ring.

"I saw the wedding ring and then I realized he's gone," said Ortiz, who divorced him the following year.

Sosa headed to Mexico and boarded a flight to Canada. He was arrested there and extradited last year to the United States.

Sosa is charged with making false statements and obtaining citizenship unlawfully by allegedly omitting information about his army service and participation in the killings.

His attorney, Shashi Kewalramani, has argued that Sosa's military service was no secret to U.S. officials since he told them about his role in the army when he applied for asylum years before he became a citizen — information that was held in his immigration file.

He has cautioned jurors that Sosa is only on trial for the way he answered questions on his immigration paperwork — not for the atrocities of war.