Santiago, Chile An appeals court dropped homicide and kidnapping charges against Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Monday, leaving the former dictator's legal fate in the hands of the Supreme Court.
A panel in the Santiago Court of Appeal voted 3-0 to drop the charges and lift a house arrest order against the 85-year-old retired general.
While the ruling was a clear victory for Pinochet, it did not bring an end to his long legal battle against accusations stemming from the massive human rights abuses during his 1973-90 rule.
As exultant Pinochet supporters were still celebrating, lawyers for the plaintiffs filed an appeal before the Supreme Court, which could rule as soon as Thursday.
One of the lawyers, Hugo Gutierrez, explained the appeal was written in advance because a ruling favoring Pinochet was considered likely.
"This was no surprise," Gutierrez said.
The outcome at the Supreme Court appears uncertain, as at least three of the five judges to issue the verdict voted against Pinochet when the court stripped him of his congressional immunity, a step that paved the way for his indictment.
Pinochet was indicted Dec. 1 by Judge Juan Guzman, who held him responsible for abuses by the "Caravan of Death," a military operation that executed political prisoners shortly after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup in which Pinochet ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende.
Guzman charged Pinochet with homicide for 55 of the victims whose bodies were recovered and with kidnapping for 18 who remain unaccounted for.
Pinochet's defense claimed Guzman acted illegally by indicting Pinochet before questioning him, and without first permitting the mental and neurological tests he had ordered Pinochet to undergo to determine his fitness to stand trial.
The court turned down the plaintiff's argument, shared by Guzman, that two written questionnaires Pinochet responded to from his house arrest in London should be considered the mandatory pre-indictment interrogation.
Lawyer Carmen Hertz, whose husband, Carlos Berger, was one of the missing victims of the caravan, said the ruling was based merely on "a technicality," such as the lack of an interrogation, but did not address "the essence of the charges."
Gutierrez said there was no guarantee the Supreme Court would bring a quick end to the case. He said the justices may rule that Guzman must question Pinochet and have him undergo the medical tests before issuing its final verdict.