TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The trial of an alleged mastermind in the killing of Berta Cáceres, a prize-winning environmental and Indigenous rights defender in Honduras, was suspended Wednesday as the defense team attempted to change the judge.
The pause came just one day after the trial of Roberto David Castillo Mejía opened.
The defense team had petitioned the court Tuesday to delay the proceeding while three outstanding challenges were resolved and it awaited results of some forensic analyses. The court rejected the request.
Castillo’s lawyers are now asking the Court of Appeals to move the case to another court. Courts spokeswoman Lucía Villars said the trial cannot continue until the Court of Appeals resolves the matter. It has three days to do so.
“There have been a series of decisions on the part of this court that are considered irregular” and so they want the court changed, defense attorney Juan Carlos Sánchez said.
Cáceres daughter, Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, said Wednesday she saw it as another attempt by the defense to delay trial.
“They are trying maintain the impunity as much for Mr. David Castillo as those behind him,” she said. “It is a strategy they’ve been using for awhile to exhaust the fight in search of justice for my mother.”
In December 2019, seven men were sentenced to prison for Cáceres’ murder. At the time, prosecutors said the killers acted on behalf of a company, Desa, that was building a dam being opposed by the activist. Castillo Mejía, who heads the project, was arrested in 2018.
Castillo Mejía allegedly paid the hitmen, gave logistical support and provided resources to those already convicted, according to prosecutors.
Cáceres was a co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. She helped organize opposition to the Agua Zarca dam project, which was to be built on the Galcarque River. The river holds spiritual importance for the Lenca people as well as being a critical source of water. The dam project remains frozen.
Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her environmental activism in 2015. She was slain at her home in La Esperanza on March 3, 2016. A Mexican activist who was there with her also was shot, but survived.
The trial is scheduled to continue until April 30, after which a date will be set for a verdict.
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