Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Costa Rican priest Minor Calvo acquitted in murder trial, but guilty of embezzlement

(Photo by Marvin Caravaca/La Nacion)His business partner was convicted on murder conspiracy charges.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, (Reuters) - A Costa Rican court acquitted a prominent Catholic priest on Wednesday of charges that he had hired a hitman to kill popular radio host Parmenio Medina.

In a trial that has gripped the largely Catholic nation, a three-judge panel ruled there was not enough evidence to convict the priest of conspiring to murder Medina, though judges did find him guilty of embezzling the donations of Radio Maria.

The court sentenced Calvo to 15 years in prison. The priest has steadily maintained his innocence since being arrested in 2003 and his lawyer said he would appeal the fraud conviction.

Omar Chaves, Calvo's business partner at Radio Maria, was convicted to 35 years on murder conspiracy charges, and 12 years on embezzlement charges.

Luis Alberto Aguirre, a.k.a "The Indian," was sentenced to 30 years on murder conspiracy charges after the judges determined he was one of the shooters firing at Medina.

Medina's family said it was disappointed with Calvo's acquittal in the murder case, but that the fraud conviction was some consolation.

"It shows that my father was telling the truth," Medina's son, Rodolfo Medina, told reporters outside the court.

Medina was shot dead outside his home in 2001 after accusing Father Minor Calvo on his program of pocketing donations at the priest's own church-affiliated radio station.

Before his death, Medina had told police he was receiving death threats. The shooting happened just hours after recording an edition of his popular satirical radio show "La Patada" (The Kick).

(Reporting by Brian Harris, editing by Jason Lange and Sandra Maler)

Note: This was the longest trial in the history of Costa Rica. It started on December 6, 2005 and it ended today, December 19, 2007.

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