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Guatemala televises two executions as they occur

After lethal injections, TV shows a heart monitor going flat, and a hand falling still.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000

GUATEMALA CITY -- In a nationwide television broadcast, two members of a Guatemalan kidnapping ring were executed by lethal injection Thursday.

With every channel in the Central American nation focused on the death penalties, Guatemalans watched as Amilcar Cetino Perez said his last words, what appeared to be a prayer.

Cetino and Tomas Cerrate Hernandez were members of a notorious kidnap gang believed to be responsible for death threats against the family of President Alfonso Portillo, prompting Portillo to send some relatives to Canada.

"It's not the kind of thing you want to watch, but you can't stop yourself," said Nerry Rinales, who saw the execution with three of his employees while opening his Guatemala City body shop.

Rinales and other Guatemalans saw a black curtain opening to reveal Cetino, strapped to a gurney. At 6:05 a.m., toxic chemicals flowed into his arm from a wall-mounted intravenous bag.

As he died over the next 11 minutes, television showed the line of a heart monitor start to flatten, then it cut back to Cetino's hand as it quivered, then lay still.

"You start to feel sorry for a guy like that when he's lying there and he's dying," said Ana Pinada, a secretary at a photocopying store who watched both executions as she made breakfast. "But then you think about what he did and you think, "I'm glad this is happening to him.' "

The executions, which were rebroadcast continually for hours, caused such a stir that the Guatemala City newspaper Nuestro Diario said it will publish 220,000 copies of its daily tabloid today, a Guatemalan record for circulation.

But the grim show was not for everyone.

"I turned off the television when I saw what was going on," said Sara de Leon, 49, who said she did not want her two children to watch the executions. "What kind of message can a child learn from that?"

The executions of Cetino, 35, and Cerrate, 39, followed weeks of often wild speculation about jailbreaks and kidnappings planned by the Los Pasaco gang in defense of its condemned associates.

The fears prompted Portillo to send his mother, sister, brother-in-law and two nephews to Canada. Portillo said his mother and sister would return to Guatemala today. The others do not have immediate plans to return home.

Cetino and Cerrate were sentenced to death for their role in the January 1997 kidnapping and death of Bonifassi de Botran, 80, an heir to the Botran liquor distillery fortune.

De Botran's family paid a ransom, but days later her body was found in a nylon sack in a shabby home outside Guatemala City.

Cerrate's execution began at 7:15 a.m. Television showed him shaking badly as he was led to the death chamber, and prison doctors said the condemned prisoner had "a complete nervous breakdown."

Both men died proclaiming their innocence.

Cetino and Cerrate were the second and third Guatemalans to be executed by injection. The 52 Guatemalan executions last century were carried out by firing squad, the last of which was televised live in September 1996.

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