The murder trial of a mountain tribesman accused of shooting a Chicago priest to death earlier this year recessed Wednesday after two witnesses disputed a claim of self-defense.
Saguin Munday, 27, is accused of killing Rev. Carl Schmitz, 70, at a mountain mission school last April 7.
During three days of testimony this week, prosecution witnesses said Father Schmitz was shot to death just hours after Munday`s wife received a letter rejecting her application for a job as a teacher at the mission school the priest ran in the village of Bulol.
Munday, a member of the Bilaan tribe, has admitted killing Father Schmitz, who married Munday and his wife and put both through school.
Munday`s attorney is expected to argue a case for self-defense or a reduction in the charge from premeditated murder to ”homicide,” which in the Philippines is the legal equivalent of manslaughter.
A medical examiner testified this week that Father Schmitz appeared to have been shot repeatedly by a high-caliber rifle fired at an upward angle. Munday claimed in a statement a day after the shooting that he killed Father Schmitz in a rage after the priest struck him during an argument.
Two witnesses testified earlier in the trial that Father Schmitz was standing on a porch several feet above Munday when he was shot. The priest never made a move to hit Munday and was too far to even have touched him, they testified.
When the trial recessed Wednesday, defense attorney Nelo Flaviano was cross-examining a Philippine Constabulary officer who led the investigating team that recovered a rifle and seven .30-caliber bullet casings from the scene of the killing and the nearby house of a village leader where Munday went after the shooting.
The Philippine Constabulary, or PC, is a paramilitary organization with enormous power in provincial areas of the country. Munday surrendered himself to the PC instead of the police after the killing.
News releases about Munday`s case have been issued by the constabulary, and Munday`s attorney has said he is being paid by the Philippine military.
Statements issued by the military and Munday have hinted that Father Schmitz was a communist sympathizer, a charge his parishioners and family vehemently deny.
Father Schmitz, a Chicago native, spent the last 15 years of his life working as a missionary with members of the Bilaan tribal minority in their mountain villages here on the southern tip of Mindanao Island, 1,000 miles south of Manila.
In a statement given to reporters in the tiny, crowded provincial courtroom this week, a member of Father Schmitz`s family from Chicago denied allegations that the priest supported the communist New People`s Army and hinted at the possibility of military involvement in the case.
”We think Munday had co-conspirators in the murder and we think an honest, complete investigation would bear that out,” said Carl Crimmins, a nephew of the slain priest.
Crimmins and his nine brothers and sisters have been taking turns flying from Chicago to attend the on-again off-again trial, which began in June. Chief prosecutor Aurelio Trampe said he expects to present his final witnesses when the trial resumes for three days Oct. 3-5.
The next court dates after that were tentatively set for Nov. 22-24, when the defense could begin presenting its case.
The lengthy recess is normal for the Philippines, where several days of testimony are regularly followed by long breaks during which the judge hears other cases.