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Sentencing Delayed for Former Salvadoran Officer With Alleged Ties to Murder of Priests
The National Law Journal
A Boston federal judge delayed sentencing a former El Salvadoran military officer for immigration and perjury offenses because he wants further briefing on allegations about the officer's link to the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests.
Judge Douglas Woodlock of the District of Massachusetts made the determination in a January 15 sentencing hearing for Inocente Orlando Montano.
Last September, Montano pleaded guilty to three counts of immigration fraud and three counts of perjury. Montano lied about the date he entered the United States on immigration forms he filled out in 2007, 2008 and 2010 in order to stay in the country. He received so-called temporary protected status, which the U.S. government offers to foreign nationals who cannot safely return to their home country because of certain conditions.
Woodlock also asked the government to brief him on the issues raised by a U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit case from 1992 that vacated a sentence because of a prosecutor's recommendation for a stiffer sentence than the plea agreement. He made no ruling on the government's recommended 51-month sentence.
In its sentencing memorandum, the government asked for a significant bump over the guidelines because of "the defendant's lengthy history as an officer in the Salvadoran military who commanded troops and security forces that engaged in widespread violations of human rights."
Woodlock said the guidelines sentencing range for the immigration and perjury offenses was 15 months to 21 months and one to three years of supervised release.
During the hearing, Woodlock denied Montano's objections to sentencing calculations that considered each false statement on an immigration form as a separate count of perjury and a false statement on an immigration application.
Then he moved on to a discussion about whether Montano's other alleged crimes should factor into his sentence.
The government's announcement of the plea deal noted that reports published in the early 1990s indicate that troops directly under Montano's command committed various human rights atrocities during El Salvador's civil war from 1979 through 1991. These crimes included torture, arbitrary detention, killings and disappearances. An expert report authored by Terry Lynn Karl, a Stanford University Latin American studies professor, details Montano's career and his alleged role in the Jesuit massacre. The report claims that Montano was in the military's ruling "inner circle" during a time when its members committed "widespread human rights abuses."
Montano was an officer in El Salvador's military for 30 years, including that period, and was El Salvador's vice-minister for public security from 1989 to 1992. He retired from the military in 1994.
Karl also claimed Montano was involved in the conspiracy behind the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.
Woodlock ordered Montano to respond by March 1 to Karl's report.
"Irrespective of what the government agreed to or didn't agree to … the allegations concerning Mr. Montano's activities with the military are matters that would cause me to consider an upward departure or variance," Woodlock said.
Woodlock added that he considers Karl's affidavit "evidence that the defendant is free to rebut or not as he sees fit."
In addition, Woodlock said he'd consider letters he received by the human rights organization the Center for Justice and Accountability evidentiary "if the government presses me."
"We're not seeking to prove the substantive charges he may have faced in Salvador -- just that he was seeking to come here to avoid prosecution," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin.
Montano's lawyer, Oscar Cruz Jr., an assistant federal defender in Boston, said the individuals who sent the letters "are not quote unquote the victims" of the immigration offense.
Woodlock also gave the government until March 1 to address issues raised by the First Circuit case, U.S. v. Canada, cited in Montano's filing, which involved a prosecutor's "implied repudiation of the government's bargain."
Montano's January 14 response to the government's sentencing memorandum stated that the government's submission of "highly inflammatory information," including the Karl report, violates the plea agreement.
Woodlock said he sees a problem with the Canada case's suggestion that the government "must stand mute" on its plea recommendation even if facts and circumstances arise out of the presentencing report or the judge's inquiry that would support a different sentence.
Woodlock also ordered the parties to brief him on two other issues. One is the significance he should give the defendant's efforts to seek a Salvadoran passport during the proceedings. The other is whether the government intends to honor a pending extradition request by Spain for the defendant during his incarceration.