A year after soldiers killed six Jesuit priests in a massacre that received world attention, the trial of those accused in the slayings has yet to start.

The soldiers who pulled the triggers have confessed and are likely to go to jail. But the senior officer charged in the deaths may well go free, and the question of whether higher-ups were involved is likely to remain a mystery.State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday in Washington:

``This brutal crime shocked the conscience of El Salvador and the world ... The United States insists on a full investigation and prosecution.'

The killings have cost El Salvador half its $85 million in American military aid planned for 1991.

``Those priests are causing us more problems dead than they did alive,' an army colonel said.

The Jesuits, also professors at the Jesuit-run Central America University, were killed five days after leftist rebels launched the biggest offensive of their decade-old war against a succession of U.S.-backed governments.

The radical right and much of the military considered the priests leftists for arguing that misery, injustice and repression were the causes of the civil war. Conservative forces saw the war as part of Communist expansion.

The killings took place before dawn last Nov. 16. About 40 soldiers from the elite Atlacatl infantry battalion tramped across the campus, pounded on the door and smashed windows of the Jesuits' residence.

According to statements by the soldiers, they roused the educators and marched five of them to the yard behind the building. The soldiers forced the five, including university rector Ignacio Ellacuria, to lie face down.

The soldiers said in their statements that Lt. Jose Espinoza walked over to Pvt. Antonio Avalos who, along with Pvt. Oscar Amaya, stood guard over the prostrate men.

``When are you going to proceed?' Espinoza asked Avalos.

Avalos said he took that as the signal to commence. So he and Amaya fatally shot the priests in the head with their assault rifles.

The sixth priest, Father Joaquin Lopez, had been wounded in his bedroom. He was finished off with four bullets when he grabbed the foot of a soldier walking past him.

Elba Ramos, the Jesuits' housekeeper, and her 15-year-old daughter, Celina, were murdered as they hugged each other on the floor of a small bedroom. Espinoza said he was ordered by a colonel who sent him to eliminate witnesses.

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