Uruguayan Gen. Miguel Dalmao was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the death of a communist professor, marking the first time an active member of the country's military has been convicted for dictatorship-era human rights violations.

The general's defense lawyer told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has already appealed Wednesday's verdict, saying the evidence was "invented" and calling it unacceptable that his client is being blamed for the crimes of a bygone era.

"This is speculation, 40 years later," Miguel Langon said while visiting Buenos Aires. "A criminal trial is completely different than a historical study. You have to have proof. ... These kinds of generalized statements can serve for a general analysis of the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, but against an individual? It just can't be."

Dalmao was a 23-year-old lieutenant in 1974, and was in charge of the jail where Nibia Sabalsagaray, a 24-year-old literature professor and communist activist, was taken from her Montevideo apartment. Hours later, she was dead.

Dalmao claimed she had committed suicide, hanging herself with a handkerchief from an iron peg in the wall that was just 4 inches (10 centimeters) above her head. The military that ran Uruguay from 1973-1985 agreed.

But Judge Dolores Sánchez dismissed the suicide claim, citing physical and psychological autopsies that showed evidence of torture and found that Sabalsagaray was optimistic and combative, not the type to kill herself.

Dalmao won't go to prison soon despite Wednesday's conviction. Now in his mid-60s, he's been hospitalized for months with a heart infection.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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