A Guatemalan court on Friday granted early release to retired army Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, who has been serving a 20 year sentence for the 1998 assassination of Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi.

The 77-year-old convict should be freed immediately, Judge Javier Sotomora Chacon said.

He ruled in favor of a motion from Lima Estrada's lawyers asserting that the colonel, who has completed more than half his sentence, was entitled to early release for good behavior.

Due to health problems, Lima Estrada was transferred in February 2008 from prison to the military hospital in Guatemala City.

Bishop Gerardi, 75, was found beaten to death in the garage of the rectory where he lived just two days after a commission he led released a report documenting 55,000 human rights violations during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, most of them committed by the army.

Lima Estrada and his son, Capt. Byron Lima Oliva, were arrested on Jan. 22, 2000, for the murder of Gerardi and were given 20 years behind bars in 2001, a sentence that was upheld on appeal.

Lima Oliva's bid for early release was denied in April. EFE