updated 12/2/2004 6:19:55 PM ET 2004-12-02T23:19:55

An appeals court ruled Thursday to strip Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s former dictator, of immunity from prosecution for a 1974 car bombing that killed an exiled general and his wife.

It marked the third attempt to try Pinochet in Chile for abuses from his 17-year dictatorship, none of which so far have been successful.

The 14-9 decision by justices on Santiago’s Court of Appeals opens the possibility that Pinochet could stand trial for the bombing that killed the former army chief, Gen. Carlos Prats, and his wife, Sofia Cuthbert, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Prats, who opposed the 1973 coup that put Pinochet in power, was among the first of an estimated several thousand people to have been killed during Pinochet’s rule.

Pinochet’s attorneys are expected to appeal Thursday’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Prats’ three daughters said Thursday that they hoped the high court would uphold the appeals court ruling and allow the prosecution to go forward, according to their lawyer, Pamela Pereira.

“This is going to allow us to really establish responsibility” for the slaying, Pereira said.

Pinochet sent Prats into exile
A former Chilean secret agent has already been tried and convicted in Argentina for planning the powerful car bomb attack that killed Prats and his wife on Sept. 30, 1974.

Prats was head of Chile’s army during the final months of leftist Salvador Allende’s presidency, which ended in the September 1973 coup. Pinochet succeeded Prats in the post, forcing him into exile in Argentina.

Pinochet already faces the prospect of trial in another case brought on behalf of victims of Operation Condor, a crackdown on dissenters by several South American dictatorships in the 1970s and ’80s. His immunity in that case was stripped in August by the Supreme Court.

A third case in which his immunity was stripped was not successful. Prosecutors had sought to try him for the deaths of 75 political prisoners, but the charges were dropped because of Pinochet’s health problems.

Health problems also thwarted attempts by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon to try Pinochet in Spain on human rights charges. British authorities allowed Pinochet to return to Chile on health grounds in 2000 after detaining him in London on a Spanish warrant.

Nearly a decade and a half after the transition to democracy, governments and courts in Chile are still struggling with the legacy of human rights abuses by Pinochet’s military regime. An official report issued soon after the restoration of democracy in 1990 found that 3,197 people had died or disappeared under Pinochet’s rule.

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