Chicago priest`s killer convicted
The admitted killer of a Roman Catholic missionary from Chicago was convicted of homicide Monday and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Sagin Munday, 28, will be eligible for parole in 5 1/2 years. Judge Rodolfo Soledad found him not guilty on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm in the shooting death of Rev. Carl Schmitz.
Father Schmitz, a Chicago native who had worked in the Philippines for more than a decade, was shot on April 7, 1988, at his mission home in the forested hills 10 miles north of here.
Koronadal, the provincial capital, lies 650 miles south of Manila on the island of Mindanao.
Munday confessed to the killing, but claimed that the 70-year-old priest struck him during an argument in which he had accused Father Schmitz of giving money to communist rebels in the area. Witnesses said the two had exchanged words rather than blows, and that Munday had fired the fatal shots with a rifle as the priest stood above him on a porch.
Francisco Ampig, a government prosecutor, said he was ”not satisfied”
with the verdict. Carl Crimmins, a nephew of Father Schmitz who attended the session, expressed dismay.
”I never expected it,” he said. ”I can`t believe it.”
Judge Soledad could have convicted Munday, a one-time student at the local missionary school and an acquaintance of the dead priest, of murder and ordered a more severe sentence, but chose the lesser offense because of the claim that Father Schmitz had hit his killer.
The verdict brings the judicial process to a close, but appeared to leave unresolved the matter of whether Munday acted on his own. Friends of the dead priest in the local religious community have questioned the extent of the investigation following the shooting and suggested there may have been a conspiracy or a cover-up involving the military, with which Munday had close ties.
Munday claimed to have been a member of a civilian paramilitary organization.
The initial investigation of the shooting was conducted by Capt. Benhur Mongao, commanding officer of the 456th Philippine Constabulary Company at Koronadal.
Mongao has admitted he was on ”close terms” with Munday, whom he used as an informant on the movement of communist rebels in the area. The captain`s investigation reportedly was limited to an interview with Munday.
An in-depth investigation was initiated by the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on Oct. 20, 1988, and included interviews with witnesses and priests who worked with Father Schmitz as well as with military authorities.
The most recent progress report, dated April 5 of this year, said investigators had received unconfirmed information of a possible military-civilian conspiracy to ”eliminate” Father Schmitz ”who was perceived as a hindrance to their illegal logging activities” in the area. Munday, it said, was to have been ”a fall guy.”
But the report only recommended that its findings be filed and that
”requesting parties be informed accordingly.” No further action was taken and there was no indication of whether the investigation might be pursued in future.
The priest`s family, the religious community and the American Embassy repeatedly petitioned Philippines President Corazon Aquino and military authorities in a campaign that succeeded in bringing national attention to the trial. The Schmitz family also sent a representative from the U.S. to attend almost every hearing.
The Passionist order, to which Schmitz belonged, published articles in church newsletters.
Despite the pressure, Judge Soledad delayed his verdict-there are no juries in the Philippines-much longer than the 90 days allowed by the law, promoting another round of inquiries by concerned parties.
One reason for such delays is that the Philippine justice system is grossly overloaded. Judge Soledad is currently hearing more than 200 active cases.