For decades, Blaise Compaoré, the president of Burkina Faso, preferred to avoid the subject of Thomas Sankara, his predecessor and one-time friend who was brutally killed in 1987 by soldiers who gunned him down outside his office.
On Wednesday, a military tribunal confirmed longstanding, widespread suspicions that Mr. Compaoré, now in living in exile, was in fact behind the killing.
After six months of hearings, a heavily protected courtroom in the capital, Ouagadougou, erupted in applause after judges convicted Mr. Compaoré in absentia and declared a sentence of life imprisonment — the climax of a much anticipated attempt to deliver justice for one of Africa’s most infamous political assassinations.
“This is a relief,” said Paul Sankara, the slain president’s younger brother, speaking by phone about the verdict. “It’s been a long wait.”
Mr. Sankara’s widow, Mariam, who has lived mostly in France since her husband was killed, was near the front of the courtroom as the sentence was read out. Mr. Compaoré, however, is unlikely to spend any time in jail soon.
He refused to return to Burkina Faso for the trial, and Ivory Coast declined to extradite him. He has always denied any role in the killing, although his explanation of the circumstances has shifted over the years.