A former army officer serving a prison sentence for the 1998 killing of a Catholic bishop died in a jail riot on Monday that killed a dozen inmates and a female visitor, 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. Lima’s death was confirmed by firefighter Julio Sanchez, but no other details were released.
Interior Minister Francisco Rivas said four of the dead had been decapitated.
He said the riot involved a fight between Lima’s inmate group and a rival gang headed by Marvin Montiel, who was sentenced to 820 years in prison for the murder of 15 Nicaraguans and a Dutch tourist in 2008.
Rivas said the riot began when someone threw a hand grenade at Lima and the inmates protecting him and then attacked them with guns.
An Argentine woman who regularly visited Lima in prison was among the dead, Rivas said.
Lima was an army captain in 2001 when he was sentenced to 30 years for the killing of Bishop Gerardi. The term was later reduced to 20 years. Three other men were also convicted in the case, including Lima’s father.
Bishop 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 multi-million-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.