RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Guatemalan immigrants gathered outside a California courthouse chanted the names of Oscar Ramirez's mother and seven siblings killed in a massacre by soldiers in the tiny village of Dos Erres during the country's civil war.
Inside, minutes earlier, Ramirez, one of the onslaught's few survivors, pleaded with a judge for a decade-long sentence for a former Guatemalan soldier convicted of lying on his American citizenship forms about his role in the killings.
The soldiers who killed more than 160 people in Dos Erres "took any memory of my family away from me," said Ramirez, who was taken from the village by soldiers as a toddler and raised by one of their families, learning his identity only years later through DNA testing.
His remarks came as former second lieutenant Jorge Sosa, 55, was sentenced Monday to a maximum 10-year sentence in an American prison for lying on his naturalization forms about his role in the massacre that decimated the village in 1982. Sosa, who taught martial arts in Riverside County, was also stripped of his U.S. citizenship.
Sosa was not formally tried in California for war crimes, but U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips noted that a jury found he committed crimes in Dos Erres after comrades testified that he fired a weapon into a well filled with screaming villagers and stood by as soldiers under his command raped and killed women.
"These are the crimes the defendant lied about and didn't disclose," Phillips told the court. "The particular facts of what occurred on Dec. 7, 1982, at Dos Erres cannot be characterized in any other way than as crimes."
The case is one of several aimed at perpetrators of the massacre that took place at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. In that nation, five former soldiers have each been sentenced to more than 6,000 years in prison for the killings, while one of Sosa's former comrades is also serving a decade-long sentence in a U.S. prison for lying on his immigration forms.
Shackled and wearing a red jail jumpsuit, Sosa pleaded with the court for clemency, saying he has lived as a law-abiding, faithful Catholic in the U.S. and in Canada, where he is also a citizen, and disagreed with the jury's verdict.
"I did not have a just trial and ... the truth was covered," Sosa said in Spanish through a court interpreter. "I am innocent and I am not guilty."
Sosa contends he was not in Dos Erres during the massacre and plans to appeal, defense lawyer Shashi Kewalramani said.
"Over our objections, the government made it a murder case, basically supplanted the Guatemalan court and decided to try that case up in the United States," Kewalramani said.
Sosa was arrested in Canada in 2011 and extradited to face charges in the U.S. He was convicted by a jury last year of making false statements and illegally obtaining citizenship in 2008.
After serving his sentence, Sosa could be returned to Guatemala, which is seeking his extradition to prosecute him for the massacre, said Jeannie Joseph, assistant U.S. attorney.
"It sends a message to other war criminals to not find a safe haven here," Joseph said, as a group of Guatemalan immigrants demonstrated outside the courthouse to show support for victims of the war and demand the maximum sentence for Sosa.
At least 200,000 people were killed during the civil war in Guatemala, mostly by state forces and paramilitary groups seeking to wipe out a left-wing uprising. The U.S. supported Guatemala's military governments during the war.
In 1982, a special forces patrol was dispatched to Dos Erres to search for weapons believed stolen by guerrillas. No weapons were found, but soldiers raped women and officers decided to round up villagers and kill them.
After the war, Guatemala issued arrest warrants for more than a dozen soldiers implicated in the killings, but the cases languished until the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009 demanded the country prosecute the perpetrators.