updated 8/17/2004 3:08:38 PM ET 2004-08-17T19:08:38

A jury acquitted former paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain of murder charges Tuesday after a 14-hour trial that angered human rights groups that blamed the country’s U.S.-backed government.

Chamblain and co-defendant Jackson Joanis were acquitted in the 1993 murder of Antoine Izmery, a former justice minister and financier of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, according to Stanley Gaston, an attorney for Chamblain.

Eight witnesses were called by the prosecution, but only one showed up, saying he knew nothing about the case, according to Viles Alizar of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. For the defense, two witnesses showed up, but they offered few details of the case, he said.

“It is really terrible,” Alizar said of the acquittal.

The trial began at 4 p.m. on Monday and stretched through the night, with the verdict around dawn the next day. Journalists were allowed to cover the proceedings.

Additional murder trials
Both defendants still face further murder trials: Chamblain for several killings in a pro-Aristide stronghold of northern Gonaives in 1994, and Joanis for the killing of a pro-Aristide priest, Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent, the same year.

It could be another month before the pair’s next trial, Gaston said.

The interim justice minister, Bernard Gousse, has said Chamblain might be pardoned of any convictions because of “his great services to the nation,” pointing to his help in ousting Aristide this year.

Chamblain led a paramilitary group blamed for killing some 3,000 people from 1991 — when Aristide was first ousted — to 1994 — when Aristide was restored by U.S. troops. Chamblain went into exile in the Dominican Republic at the time.

He returned to help lead the rebellion this year that ousted Aristide for a second time and sent him into exile. Human rights groups have criticized Haiti’s U.S.-backed interim government for forming alliances with people like Chamblain while it arrests Aristide officials and supporters.

“For the defense, this has been a great success,” Gaston, Chamblain’s attorney, said of the acquittal in the Izmery case.

Earlier convictions
Chamblain was convicted in absentia in 1995 and given two life sentences for his alleged role in the Izmery assassination and the 1994 Gonaives killings. Haitian law provides that people judged in their absence have a right to a new trial if they return.

Chamblain led a band of rebels during a bloody revolt that began Feb. 5 in the northern city of Gonaives. After a three-week rebellion, Aristide was pushed from power Feb. 29.

Chamblain claims Aristide ordered his henchmen to kill his pregnant wife in 1991 and told The Associated Press during the revolt that he would do the same to Aristide given the chance.

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