11 sentenced in El Salvador in filmmaker's killing

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2011 5:06 PM
11 sentenced in El Salvador in filmmaker's killing

A court has sentenced 10 gang members and a police officer to prison terms ranging from four to 30 years in the killing of a French filmmaker who made a documentary about a gang in this Central American country.

The press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Thursday that the sentences did not fully resolve questions about the 2009 slaying of Christian Poveda.

The court announced late Wednesday that it had sentenced Jose Melara of the Mara 18 gang to 30 years for ordering the killing.

Two other gang members were sentenced to 20 years, one for shooting Poveda and another for acting as a lookout. Seven more Mara 18 members were given four years for covering up the killing as was former policeman Juan Napoleon Espinoza, convicted as an accessory to the crime.

According to the charges, Espinoza told the gang that Poveda had been sharing information on their activities with Salvadoran police. Other police officials have denied Poveda ever acted as an informant.

It was unclear if that allegation was a motive in the killing. Authorities also said suspects told them Poveda was killed because he showed gang members committing illegal acts in his documentary.

Twenty additional defendants were acquitted, but 17 of them are serving time for other crimes.

Poveda lived with the gang for almost a year while making the documentary "La Vida Loca" _ "The Crazy Life" _ about the group's violent daily activities.

Police Assistant Investigations Director Howard Cotto said another motive may have been disagreement among the gang's leadership about how much Poveda should be allowed to film.

Poveda, a French citizen with Spanish parents, was slain after setting out to visit the gang-dominated Soyapango area to arrange an interview with female gang members for journalists from a French fashion magazine.

Gang violence in impoverished El Salvador fuels one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America. The country has more than 16,000 gang members, many of whom were deported from the United States after serving jail terms there.

Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that the verdict left it with "mixed feelings" and unanswered questions.

"Was a two-day trial sufficient to establish exactly who did what and to shed light on all the unexplained aspects of this case?" the group said. "We greet this verdict with a mixture of relief and frustration."