A former Salvadoran army intelligence agent who has applied for political asylum in the United States was convicted in federal court yesterday of illegally entering the country six years after he was deported.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria took less than an hour to find against Cesar Vielman Joya-Martinez, who has said he participated in several "death squad" operations of the Salvadoran army's First Brigade.
Joya-Martinez, deported from the United States in 1983, was arrested and charged with illegal reentry after appearing last spring in the Immigration and Naturalization Service offices in Arlington for a hearing to determine his eligibility for political asylum.
The decision on political asylum is pending and will not be affected by yesterday's verdict. If Joya-Martinez is granted asylum, he will be required to serve any sentence meted out in the illegal-entry case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Renee R. Christina told the court yesterday.
Joya-Martinez, 27, faces a possible maximum prison term of two years. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton set sentencing for Nov. 30.
Daniel S. Alcorn, Joya-Martinez's attorney, said there were grounds for appealing the verdict because the government failed to prove his client entered the country illegally.
Evidence presented during the four-hour trial showed that Joya-Martinez did not properly notify the U.S. attorney general's office that he was returning to the country late last year. However, Alcorn argued that the government failed to prove his client did not obtain a valid visa allowing him to enter the country.
Alcorn said after the verdict that his client returned to the United States because he feared that members of the Salvadoran army were planning to kill him. "He fled because he was informed he was going to be killed next and made a scapegoat" for murders committed by the death squads, Alcorn said.
A commander with the Salvadoran army has called Joya-Martinez "an assassin, a deserter and a thief."