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Guatemala’s Rios Montt Found Responsible in Massacre of Mayan Indians

May 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: Next: the verdict in a major human rights case, one we’ve been following in Guatemala.

Last Wednesday, NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien reported on the forensic science being used in the genocide trial of the man who ruled that country some 30 years ago. Late last week, a judge issued a landmark conviction.

Hari is back with that story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The ruling came Friday evening. Former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was guilty in the massacre of more than 1,700 Mayan Indians in the early 1980s.

He was a general when he seized power in 1982 through a military coup, ruling for just 18 months at the height of Guatemala’s long civil war. Rios Montt has insisted he knew nothing of any massacres, laying the blame to his field commanders. And in closing arguments at his trial, his lawyers maintained no group was singled out.

FRANCISCO GARCIA, Attorney for Efrain Rios Montt: We sustain irrefutably that in Guatemala, there was never genocide because people were not persecuted because of their ethnicity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But witnesses testified the dictator did in fact oversee a campaign of rape, executions and razing of Mayan villages. Rios Montt had been immune from prosecution until he left Guatemala’s congress last year. Now, at age 86, he faces a sentence of 80 years in prison. His lawyers have promised to appeal.