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General cleared churchwomen deaths { November 3 2000 }

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Former Salvadoran generals cleared in four church women's deaths
November 3, 2000
Web posted at: 12:04 p.m. EST (1704 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- A federal jury decided Friday that two former Salvadoran generals were not responsible for the 1980 deaths of four American church women.

Attorneys for the four women's families had asked the jury to order former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the former head of the Salvadoran National Guard, to pay $100 million in compensatory damages.

Nuns Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel and missionary Jean Donovan were detained at police roadblock on December 2, 1980. Their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered the next day beside a dirt road.

Five members of the Salvadoran National Guard were convicted in 1984 of raping and murdering the women. In 1998, four of the guardsmen said they had acted under orders.

The families alleged the killings were part of a campaign to silence sympathizers of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas. The targets included church members critical of the military-led government during the 12-year civil war that began in 1979.

Lawyers for their families told the jury that hundreds of declassified documents, testimony from a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and documentation of rampant killings of other religious figures prove Garcia and Vides Casanova did nothing to stop the massacres. The former generals also helped cover up evidence that the soldiers were responsible, the lawyers said.

Garcia, 67, and Vides Casanova, 62, retired to Florida in 1989 and were granted U.S. residency because they had never been convicted of a crime. Garcia said he was fleeing death threats.

They lived quietly in middle-class neighborhoods until families of the slain women learned they were here from a reporter. The families brought the civil action after they failed to have the two tried in criminal court in their homeland.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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