Attorney seeks justice in Jesuit priest murders

March 14, 2012 7:53:50 PM PDT
After 23 years, prosecutors are finally close to getting justice in the massacre of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. Now the San Francisco-based lawyer leading the case is being honored by Santa Clara University School of Law.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were brutally murdered at Central American University in San Salvador. At the time, the right-wing government blamed rebels, but lawyers now say evidence shows the order was given by the military high command in an attempt to silence the priests and leave no witnesses.

"They were trying to literally blow their brains out," said Rev. Stephen Privett, president of USF. "The government was afraid of intelligent, articulate spokespersons."

Privett worked with the murder victims in El Salvador the year before the killings. As the civil war raged on, the Jesuits had become highly critical of the government's human rights abuses.

"The judge will decide this, but the evidence so far is pretty compelling that this was a plot hatched by the entire Salvadoran high command and every single one of them is guilty of this massacre," said Privett.

The fact that a judge will finally decide their guilt is due in large part to Almudena Bernabeu. She's an attorney with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, and she's lead prosecutor in the case against more than a dozen Salvadoran officials accused of the murders.

"The case is remarkable? [there's] evidence that had not been brought about the conspiracy and the killings themselves before, witnesses, people that had not testified before for different reasons," said Bernabeu.

Most of the victims were from Spain. The trial will be held there as soon as Salvadoran officials approve extradition.

Bernabeu is accepting an award Wednesday for her work from the Santa Clara University School of Law, but she says the ultimate award will be justice for the victims and the people of El Salvador.


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