Ex-soldier who killed Guatemalan bishop dies in prison riot

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A former army officer serving a prison sentence for the 1998 killing of a Roman Catholic bishop died in a jail riot that killed at least five inmates Monday, Guatemalan authorities said.

Byron Lima was convicted of the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, who was an outspoken critic of military abuses during the country’s 36-year civil war. The death was confirmed by firefighter Julio Sanchez, but no other details were released.

Sanchez said he had been inside the prison and seen 13 bodies, one burned, two decapitated and others shot to death. But prison system Director Luis Carlos De Leon Zea said authorities had been able to confirm only five deaths.

The riot appeared to have involved a dispute between rival groups of inmates.

Lima was an army captain in 2001 when he was sentenced to 30 years for the killing. The term was later reduced to 20 years. Three other men were also convicted in the case, including Lima’s father.

Gerardi was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block at his seminary on April 26, 1998, two days after he presented a report blaming the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in the 1960-1996 conflict.

Lima had been considered the most powerful inmate in Guatemala’s prison system. He was facing additional charges for his activities behind bars.

Prosecutors alleged he built a multimillion-dollar illicit prison empire based on threats and corruption. They said Lima took money from other inmates in return for favors such as prohibited cellphones and appliances as well as special food and conjugal visits.