The killing of U.S. journalist Charles Horman inspired the 1982 movie "Missing," starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

Story highlights

NEW: The U.S. Department of Defense says Davis has retired from his military post

An indictment charges a former U.S. military official with homicide

A former Chilean military official is also charged in the killings

Analyst: "We finally have the wheels of justice turning slowly in Chile"

CNN  — 

A Chilean judge requested the extradition of a retired U.S. military officer Tuesday, accusing him of involvement in the 1973 killing of an American journalist that inspired an Oscar-winning movie.

An indictment charges former Navy Capt. Ray E. Davis with the homicides of journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi.

Former Chilean military official Pedro Octavio Espinoza was also charged in the killings, which occurred shortly after the South American nation’s military coup.

Horman’s disappearance and his family’s attempts to find him inspired the 1982 movie “Missing,” starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. The film won an Academy Award for best screenplay, and also sparked a libel lawsuit from several U.S. officials for the way the movie portrayed them.

The libel lawsuit was dismissed, but the homicide cases have continued for decades.

“Thirty-eight years after this awful crime of killing two Americans deliberately in the aftermath of the coup, we finally have the wheels of justice turning slowly in Chile, but turning,” said Peter Kornbluh, who has combed through declassified U.S. government documents to investigate the killings. “It remains to be seen what the real evidence is that (the judge) has, but it certainly is a dramatic turn of events all these years later.”

The deaths of Horman and Teruggi occurred in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende – a move which pleased U.S. authorities at the time. Allende, a socialist with ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and other Cold War opponents of the United States, was replaced by a right-wing military dictatorship headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet’s subsequent 16-year rule was marked by the death and disappearance of thousands of alleged enemies of the regime.

At the time, Davis headed an American military group tied to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said.

Davis’ whereabouts were not immediately clear Wednesday. Chilean Judge Jorge Zepeda’s indictment says the former military official now resides in the United States and asks Chile’s Supreme Court to consider an extradition request to bring him to trial in Chile.

In a February 2000 report in the New York Times, Davis said he “had nothing to do with the deaths” of Horman and Teruggi.

The Times story also said Davis “appeared offended by the resurgence of questions about the killings.”

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the extradition request. Breasseale said Davis had retired from his military post.

“We’ve not received any official correspondence from the Chilean courts,” he said. “Mr. Davis is a private citizen. Any requests for information or legal action as such would be coordinated through the Department of Justice.”

Horman was detained September 17, 1973, and killed the next day, the indictment says. Teruggi died of bullet wounds on September 22, 1973, the indictment says.

In 2003, former Chilean Air Force officer Rafael Gonzalez Verdugo was the first person charged as an accomplice to Horman’s killing.

Horman’s widow, 66-year-old Joyce Horman, said she was surprised to learn of Tuesday’s indictment.

“I was quite stunned, frankly. It’s taken me a little while to get used to the idea that there’s this big step that’s finally being taken that we’ve been waiting for, for so long,” she said. “I am very glad for this step forward. I’m very grateful for it, and I hope it keeps going.”

Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington, has worked closely with Horman’s and Teruggi’s families to push for the release of documents connected to the cases.

“The Chilean courts have been the one place, the one untapped potential mine of information on how Charlie and Frank came to die, and whether the United States was involved,” he said.

Tuesday’s indictment cites a number of declassified U.S. documents as evidence, but does not provide detailed allegations about how Davis and Espinoza were connected with the killings.

“We’re now waiting with bated breath to see what the evidence (behind) that indictment actually is,” Kornbluh said. “The families deserve to know, and they deserve justice after all these years. Nobody’s ever gone to jail, let alone been identified as responsible for these deaths, and almost 40 years have gone by.”

CNN’s Luis Arce, Michelle Hall, and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.