Colombian priests hired hitmen to kill themselves

February 15, 2012 - 12:35 AM
Colombia Priest Killings

FILE - In this Thursday Jan. 27, 2011 file photo, faithful attend a Mass in the memory of two Catholic priests who were murdered in Bogota, Colombia. The bodies of priests Rafael Reátiga, 35, and Richard Piffano, 36, were found shot death inside a car in in southern Bogota early Thursday. The sign reads in Spanish "Minute of silence and pray for Father Rafael. The community repudiates the crime of our pastor." Colombia's prosecutors office said on Tuesday Feb. 14, 2012 that the two Catholic priests hired hitmen to kill them when at least one of them was diagnosed with AIDS. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez, File)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Rev. Rafael Reatiga asked his parishioners to pray for him and gave the choirmaster a list of songs for his funeral shortly before he was found shot to death together with another Roman Catholic priest, a Colombian prosecutor said Tuesday.

Authorities initially suspected robbery when Reatiga's body was found along with that of Rev. Richard Piffano, 37, in a car in southern Bogota on Jan. 27, 2011.

But on Tuesday prosecutor Ana Patricia Larrota said investigators had determined that it was suicide by hitmen in the year-old case: the two priests hired gunmen to kill them after Reatiga discovered he had AIDS.

The priests gave members of a criminal gang the equivalent of $8,500, said the chief investigator of the prosecutor's office, Maritza Gonzalez, as two of the four alleged assassins appeared before a judge for processing.

She said the two priests had originally planned to throw themselves off a cliff into a canyon north of Bogota but apparently lacked the nerve.

In addition to AIDS, Reatiga had syphilis and witness testimony indicated he was a regular visitor to places frequented by gays in central Bogota, Larrota told the judge who processed the two alleged assassins on Tuesday.

Gildardo Alberto Penate and Isidro Castiblanco were charged with aggravated homicide, said Larrota. Each faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Three weeks before their deaths, Reatiga had transferred his possessions to his mother. Piffano withdrew about $3,700 from his bank account on the day of his death, Gonzalez said.

Investigators said they located the alleged killers based on telephone numbers the priests had called from their cell phones in the days before their deaths. Authorities found the stolen cell phone of one of the priests on a gang member months after the killing.

Some of the numbers ended up belonging to a criminal band involved in counterfeiting, fraud and arms trafficking, they said. It allegedly supplied the killers, including two who authorities say remain at large.