A former Salvadoran military commander accused of plotting the assassination of six Jesuit priests in 1989 has decided to challenge immigration charges in federal court, reversing an earlier decision to plead guilty to the accusations.
Oscar Cruz Jr., an attorney for Inocente Orlando Montano, told the court yesterday that Montano will not plead guilty as planned, and that he expects prosecutors to move forward with the official process of seeking a grand jury indictment.
Montano, 69, is accused of lying about his military background on immigration forms to stay in the United States, where he has lived for a decade.
He was arrested in August and was brought to court on an information, a formal complaint alleging the immigration violations. He was never indicted because he immediately agreed to plead guilty to the accusations.
But Montano reneged on that decision during a hearing in December, once US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock began to explain Montano’s constitutional rights and the consequences of a guilty plea.
Since his arrest, Montano has been held under home confinement on charges of perjury and immigration fraud, both felonies that could carry years of jail time if he is convicted.
But he is wanted on more serious charges in Spain, where a court indicted him and 19 other former Salvadoran government and military officials, alleging they orchestrated the slayings of the six priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter. Five of the priests were Spaniards.
Spanish officials are seeking the extradition of Montano and 14 other Salvadoran military members.
Montano has been living in Everett under his own name, misrepresenting his military record and receiving protected immigration status, federal officials said. He tried to flee to El Salvador after a Boston Globe report in August disclosed his identity and his whereabouts, but was intercepted by federal agents in Virginia.