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Panamanian acquitted in U.S. soldier's death

The son of Panama's most powerful anti-American politician was acquitted Saturday of charges that he murdered a U.S. soldier, a verdict that the U.S. State Department said "raises questions about the handling of this case."

A seven-member jury deliberated 7{ hours before declaring Pedro Miguel Gonzalez and two others innocent of the 1992 murder of 22-year-old Sgt. Zak Hernandez of Puerto Rico. The unarmed Hernandez was shot, apparently to protest a coming visit by President George Bush, as he drove along a highway.

The verdict ended a trial that pitted the financial might of the U.S. government against the political clout of Gonzalez's father, Gerardo, president of Panama's congress and outspokenly anti-American.

While the United States posted a $100,000 reward for the younger Gonzalez's capture and paid for his prosecution, Gerardo Gonzalez arranged for his son to surrender directly to Panama's president, then brought charges against the police chief who investigated him.

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