Witness Out in Berenson Trial

Associated Press -- 24 April 2001

LIMA, Peru - The wife of a top guerrilla leader refused to testify Tuesday during the trial of Lori Berenson, an American accused of collaborating with leftist rebels to raid Peru's Congress.

Nancy Gilvonio, wife of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement's late commander, Nestor Cerpa, protested having to testify from behind bars in a courtroom cell, without her lawyer present.

Gilvonio and Berenson were convicted in 1996 by a secret military court and sentenced to life in prison for masterminding a thwarted Tupac Amaru takeover of Congress.

Berenson has maintained her innocence, saying she never knew about the Congress plot.

Last year, Berenson, 31, was granted a new civilian trial that began last month on lesser charges of terrorist collaboration. Conviction could mean up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the two women posed as journalists to enter Congress and gather information for the planned 1995 takeover.

Berenson, a New York native who was an accredited correspondent for two U.S.-based magazines, says she was interviewing congressmen for articles on women's rights and decentralization in Peru.

She says she did not know Gilvonio's true identity, and that Gilvonio was using a different name when she hired her as a photographer.

Presiding Judge Marcos Ibazeta dismissed Gilvonio on Tuesday. It was unclear whether she would return to testify. Convicted witnesses commonly testify from behind bars during criminal trials in Peru. Ibazeta has allowed Berenson to testify outside the cell.