Fierce ex-Guatemalan ruler Rios Montt dies at 91

April 2 (UPI) — Former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who was tried for genocide five years ago, has died at the age of 91.

Rios Montt died of a heart attack Sunday at his home, attorney Jaime Hernandez said.

After assuming control of Guatemala’s government in a 1982 military coup, Rios Montt’s 17-month administration presided over a country divided by a bloody civil war. He was brought to trial that year for the murders of nearly 1,200 Ixil Indians in Guatemala’s Quiche state.

The retired general was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

The ruling was overturned 10 days later by the country’s Constitutional Court due to a procedural error, but it made Rios Montt the first head of state to be convicted of genocide in his own country.

Rios Montt’s attorneys successfully blocked further judicial proceedings by listing dementia among several of his illnesses.

Because of the offices he held, he was entitled to lie in state at the Legislative Palace in Guatemala City, the country’s Congress said. Instead, Rios Montt’s family chose to hold a private burial on Sunday in a local cemetery.

Rios Montt was Guatemala’s president from March 1982 to August 1983. He was removed from office in another coup d’etat by Defense Minister Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores. He unsuccessfully attempted to regain the presidency in 2003 and was elected to Guatemalan Congress in 2007, which granted him immunity from prosecution.

Once his congressional term ended in 2012, and his immunity ended, he was indicted on war crimes charges. A retrial began in 2015 after his conviction was overturned, but a Guatemalan court ruled he could not be sentenced due to his deteriorating health.