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Evidence in Bishop's Murder Emerges


GUATEMALA CITY (AP) - Blood found at the scene of the 1998 slaying Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi has been matched to DNA samples taken from suspects, the chief prosecutor in the case said Friday.

Church officials announced that a former army employee had testified that a car seen leaving the area near the murder scene was a military vehicle.

The new evidence may help break a yearlong deadlock in the investigation into who killed Gerardi, a human rights crusader who was bludgeoned to death on April 26, 1998 - two days after releasing a report that blamed the military for human rights abuses during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans died or disappeared in the war, which ended with peace accords in 1996.

Prosecutor Celvin Galindo said blood from the crime scene matched DNA samples taken from suspects, but he declined to identify anyone. Several soldiers, civilians and a priest were initially accused in the death.

FBI labs in Washington will conduct final tests, he said, and the results may be released within two weeks.

Many Guatemalans believe investigators have overlooked evidence of possible military involvement in the slaying, including testimony that a vehicle had been parked near Gerardi's home on the night of the killing.

``We are asking that (the government) discard their defensive attitude, in which they have rejected the witness' testimony without even an investigation,'' said Mynor Melgar, legal counsel to the Diocese Human Rights Office, which has closely followed the case.

In a related development, Paraman Cumaraswamy, a U.N. envoy investigating Guatemala's justice system, said Friday in Guatemala City, that ``the state of justice in the country is grave.''

One of the most serious problems, he said, was that lawyers and judges commonly receive threats, most often from state forces ``and surprisingly, even from within the justice system itself,'' he said at the end of a 10-day, fact-finding visit.