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Hearings Revive Scandal Over 1978 Police Killings

November 20, 1991 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Televised legislative hearings have revived a scandal over the police killings of two independence activists in 1978 and the official cover-up that followed.

The notorious case, the subject of at least two books and the 1989 film ″Show of Force,″ is known as Cerro Maravilla after a mountain range where the ″independentistas″ were ambushed, beaten and shot - one while kneeling and begging for mercy.

The Judiciary Committee of the Puerto Rican Senate began a round of hearings Oct. 24 to determine whether Puerto Rican and federal government officials and the FBI were criminally involved in the case.

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Samuel Dash, who was the Senate’s chief counsel for the Watergate probe and now a Georgetown University law professor, has been a consultant on Cerro Maravilla (SAY-ro ma-rah-VEE-yah) to the Puerto Rican Senate since 1984. He says the two scandals are ″essentially the same thing″ in the sense government officials allegedly obstructed justice.

″In another sense, Cerro Maravilla is actually a more tragic and worse case than Watergate,″ Dash said in an interview. ″Watergate started out as a political burglary, and Cerro Maravilla involved two murders. And one might call them political murders.″

Dash alleged the FBI helped plan the killings and that a federal investigation of the case was a ″giant cover-up″ aimed at supporting the pro-statehood administration. He said the federal cover-up would be exposed in the later stages of the hearings.

Cerro Maravilla occurred in a climate of alarm over what seemed to be an intensive bombing campaign by militant groups seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth.

Police had reported a record 100 terrorist bombings on the Caribbean island between January and early May of 1978.

Then on July 25 - Puerto Rico’s Constitution Day - independence activists Carlos Soto Arrivi, 18, and Arnaldo Dario Rosado Torres, 24, were killed on Cerro Maravilla.

The official version was that they were caught trying to blow up communication towers on the mountain and died in a shootout with police who fired in self-defense.

Carlos Romero Barcelo, the pro-statehood governor at the time, hailed the police as heroes and declared the wave of terrorism ended. A federal investigation supported the government line.

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But investigative news media reports and hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1983 exposed a cover-up: The terrorist bomb plot was a ruse by police to lure the ″independentistas″ into a death trap.

The disclosures led to the imprisonment of 10 police officers, including intelligence chief Col. Angel Perez Casillas. All were convicted of lying to federal grand juries and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 30 years.

The current hearings, carried live by public television, are being held in a grand ballroom normally used for government receptions. Most witnesses so far have been current and former police officers, including former agents of the Police Intelligence Division, which carried out Cerro Maravilla.

Dramatic testimony came the first day, when Luis Reveron Martinez, a former police special agent summoned from his prison cell, described how he blasted Rosado in the chest with a shotgun while Rosado pleaded on his knees for mercy. It was his first public admission of the killing.

Reveron said he was shaken by what he had done and was unable to shoot Rosado’s companion, Soto. Two fellow officers finished the job.

Testimony has also suggested that Cerro Maravilla was but one of many hoax bombings carried out by police to create a false sense of intensified terrorist activity.