A Colombian ex-army general on Thursday pleaded not guilty to the 1997 paramilitary murder of Marino Lopez Mena, claiming that he is the victim of political persecution.
Former General Rito Alejo del Rio chose to defend himself throughout the legal proceedings, claiming there is no testimonial or documentary evidence linking him to the murder. Del Rio told the courts that his friendship with former President Alvaro Uribe is being used against him, claiming that the prosecution is trying to get the army general to speak out against Uribe in court.
The retired general was the commander of the 17th Brigade that operated in Choco and Uraba at the time of the murder and has been linked to the murder by the testimonies of various demobilized paramilitaries.
Del Rio also accused another army official, Colonel Alfonso Velasquez, of being responsible for an elaborate set up against him and for instigating the legal proceedings.
Alejo del Rio claims to have been engaged in combat 19 miles away at the time that the farmer and local leader was killed in a paramilitary operation in Bijao, Choco in Colombia’s northwest. The ex-military official argued that claims that “it would have been practically impossible… for me to control all of the zones.”
The prosecution Wednesday requested that the disgraced army official, who is already serving jail time for his links to paramilitary group AUC, be given the maximum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison.
The murder of Marino Lopez Mena caused international outrage after it became known that the paramilitaries had decapitated him and played football with his head in front of his family.