Murderer of 2 Jesuits Sentenced

Congregation States: "Justice Has Not Been Done"

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MOSCOW, AUG. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The murderer of Jesuit Father Victor Betancourt was sentenced on Tuesday, but the killing of the victim's confrere, Father Otto Messner, remains unpunished.



In a communiqué, the Society of Jesus of the Russian region expressed its disappointment and stated that justice has not been carried out.

The victims, Ecuadorian Father Victor Betancourt, 42, and Russian Father Otto Messner, 46, were found dead last October with blows to the head in a Moscow apartment owned by the Society of Jesus.

At the time the bodies were found, the dwelling was open and no valuable objects were missing.

Mikhail Orekhov was sentenced to 14 years of harsh imprisonment for the Oct. 25 murder of Father Betancourt, but absolved for the Oct. 27 murder of Father Messner, who was traveling and returned home two days after the first killing.

The accused criminal, who confessed to the two murders during the preliminary investigation, changed his version of the events in the course of the trial, alleging that the double murder was the work of another individual, unknown to him.
 
In keeping with the Russian judicial system, at the request of the accused, the trial took place before a popular jury.

Remaining doubts
 
In a press communiqué, the Jesuits of the Russian region said that "the trial was carried out in a serious and professional manner and gave both sides the opportunity to express their opinions, to ask questions and to present their evidence."

The statement continued: "The ambiguous versions of the accused on the motives and circumstances of Father Victor Betancourt's death were adequately evaluated by the jury.

"At the same time, the fact that its members did not acknowledge Mikhail Orekhov's culpability in Father Messner's murder, suggests that the evidence gathered during the investigation was not sufficiently convincing. Doubt remains, therefore, on the evidence gathered and on the admission of culpability of the accused during the preliminary investigation."
 
The Jesuits expressed their "profound disappointment over the verdict on the murder of Father Otto" and stated their conviction that "justice has not been done."

The statement noted that they are meeting with lawyers to think of "possible actions to undertake in order to arrive at a further clarification of the case."

At the same time, the Jesuits affirmed that they are "very grateful to those who have expressed their solidarity and support in the quest for justice."
 
Father Victor Betancourt entered the Society of Jesus in 1984. He had been working in Russia since 2001, where he was dedicated to preparing aspirants to enter the order.

Since 2008, he was the congregation's representative at St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow.
 
Father Otto Messner entered the Society of Jesus in 1982. Both Jesuits offered pastoral support at Moscow's Church of St. Louis.