RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) – A former Guatemalan special forces soldier was sentenced Monday to 10 years in an American prison for lying on his U.S. citizenship papers about his alleged role in a civil war massacre more than three decades ago.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips also stripped 55-year-old Jorge Sosa of his U.S. citizenship.
Sosa was convicted last year of lying on his 2007 naturalization application about his role in the Guatemalan military and alleged participation in the killing of at least 160 people in the village of Dos Erres in 1982.
Sosa used to work as a martial arts instructor in Riverside County. He was arrested in Canada in 2011, where he is also a citizen, and extradited to face charges in the U.S.
Sosa told the court he is innocent and disagrees with the jury's verdict
His trial featured harrowing testimony from former comrades and a man who survived the onslaught in Dos Erres as a young boy and recounted watching soldiers take his mother to be killed as she pleaded for her life.
Sosa was convicted by a federal jury after a few hours of deliberations.
The case is one of several efforts to bring to justice the alleged perpetrators of the 1982 massacre. In Guatemala, five former soldiers each have been sentenced to more than 6,000 years in prison for the killings, while a former soldier was sentenced to a decade in an American prison for lying on his citizenship forms in a case similar to Sosa's.
At least 200,000 people were killed during Guatemala's 36-year-civil war, mostly by state forces and paramilitary groups seeking to wipe out a left-wing uprising.
Defense attorney Shashi Kewalramani has said Sosa is a law-abiding member of society and was not on trial for war crimes.
"The government is seeking a backdoor way to enforce Guatemalan law," Kewalramani wrote in his sentencing memorandum. "This is not the appropriate forum to punish Mr. Sosa for his alleged conduct in Guatemala, where he has not been tried."
The Dos Erres massacre took place during the height of the conflict that ravaged Guatemala until 1996. The U.S. supported Guatemala's military governments during the war.
In December 1982, a special forces patrol was dispatched to Dos Erres to search for weapons believed stolen by guerrillas. No weapons were found, but after soldiers began raping some of the women, officers decided to round up all the villagers and kill them, according to prosecutors' court filings.
Soldiers hit victims on the head with a sledgehammer or shot them before tossing their bodies into the village well, two of Sosa's fellow former soldiers testified during his trial. When victims screamed from inside the well, Sosa fired his weapon at them, one of the witnesses said.
After the war, Guatemala issued arrest warrants for more than a dozen soldiers implicated in the killings, but the cases languished until the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009 demanded the country prosecute the perpetrators.