RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- Ramiro Osorio says he was peering through the wooden slats of a church when he saw armed men take small children from his Guatemalan village and smash them into a tree before throwing their bodies into a well.
He was 5 years old. Osorio said his mother was torn from his arms and taken to a well pleading for her life.
"I heard my mom screaming for help and ‘Please, don’t kill my kids. They don’t know nothing. We don’t know nothing," Osorio said Friday. His chilling testimony came in the American trial of a former Guatemalan soldier charged with lying about the 1982 massacre on his U.S. citizenship application.
Jorge Sosa, a former second lieutenant with a special forces unit of the Guatemalan army, is battling to remain an American citizen. If convicted of making false statements and obtaining citizenship unlawfully, he also could face 15 years in prison.
Though it doesn’t involve war crimes, the case has brought horrific accounts of Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war to the court in Southern California, where Sosa previously lived. About 200,000 people were killed during the war that ended in 1996, mostly by state forces and paramilitary groups.
Prosecutors say more than 160 people were slain in the village of Dos Erres in December 1982.
Prosecutors say Sosa failed to disclose his military service or role in the massacre on his application to become an American citizen in 2007.
Sosa’s attorney, Shashi Kewalramani, has argued that his client’s time in the army was no secret to U.S. officials since he told them about it when he applied for asylum years before -- information that was held in his immigration file.
Kewalramani has cautioned jurors that Sosa is on trial only for the way he answered questions on his immigration paperwork -- not for the atrocities of war.
After his 1985 asylum claim was denied, Sosa moved to Canada, where he became a citizen. He got a green card after marrying an American and naturalized in 2008.
Two years later, homeland security officials searched his Moreno Valley home. Sosa, a karate instructor, then headed to Mexico and boarded a flight to Canada. He was arrested and extradited last year to the United States.
Earlier this week, soldiers testified that they saw Sosa standing near the well in Dos Erres where they were ordered to bring all the villagers to be killed. When half-dead men screamed from within, Sosa fired a rifle at them and threw in a grenade, one of the soldiers said.
Osorio, who was raised by a soldier but eventually left Guatemala and was given asylum abroad, recalled for jurors how armed men came one night to the home where he lived in Dos Erres with his parents and six siblings. His father and older brother were sent to the village school; his mother and the rest of the children were sent to the church.
He could hear the men screaming outside. The women started crying. Armed men grabbed women and young girls by the hair and pulled them outside, Osorio recalled.
He could see what they did with young children through the wooden slats of the church. One man came inside the church with a message.
"If you know how to pray, pray, because nobody will save you from this," Osorio recalled being told.
After Osorio’s mother was taken, he ran to the back of the church where screaming women and children had been held under guard. He fell asleep, crying, under a bench.
When he awoke, only a handful of children were left.