December 20, 2007 / 2:38 AM / 11 years ago

Costa Rica priest acquitted in murder trial

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Dec 19 (Reuters) - A Costa Rican court acquitted a prominent Catholic priest on Wednesday of charges that he had hired a hitman to kill a popular radio host.

Radio host Parmenio Medina was shot dead outside his home in 2001 after accusing Father Minor Calvo on his program of pocketing donations at the priest’s own church-affiliated radio station.

In a trial that has gripped the largely Catholic nation, a three-judge panel ruled there was not enough evidence to convict the priest of conspiring to murder Calvo, though judges did find him guilty of embezzling the donations.

Calvo’s business partner at the radio station was convicted on murder conspiracy charges, as was the driver of the getaway car used by the killer.

However, the man prosecutors accused of pulling the trigger was acquitted.

Calvo has steadily maintained his innocence since being arrested in 2003 and his lawyer said he would appeal the fraud conviction. The court sentenced the priest to 15 years in prison.

Before his death, Medina had told police he was receiving death threats. The shooting happened just hours after recording an edition of his popular satirical radio show "La Patada."

Medina’s family said it was disappointed with Calvo’s acquittal in the murder case, but that the fraud conviction was some consolation.

"It shows that my father was telling the truth," Medina’s son, Rodolfo Medina, told reporters outside the court.

(Reporting by Brian Harris, editing by Jason Lange and Sandra Maler)

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