Chile's Supreme Court on Wednesday ratified a decision to grant probation to a former police officer imprisoned for the 1985 killings of three Communist activists who had their throats slit during the country's military dictatorship.

The top court confirmed the decision by an appeals court in Santiago granting conditional freedom to Alejandro Saez. He had served over 20 years of a life sentence for the murders.

The victims were Santiago Nattino, an artist; Manuel Guerrero, a teacher; and Jose Manuel Parada, a sociologist. They were kidnapped and found near the Santiago airport with their throats slashed.

In a statement, the families of the victims criticized the decision and said they might appeal to international courts. They said Saez showed no remorse and continued to justify the crime in a psychological report by the national prison service. The decision puts human rights violations on the same level with common crimes, they said.

"My soul hurts today, it's broken," Javiera Parada, the daughter of Jose Manuel, said via her Twitter account.

"I want to believe in our country, but days like today make it very hard," said Parada, who is a cultural attache for Chile's government in the U.S.

In 1995, Saez was among 15 retired policemen and one civilian sentenced by the Supreme Court to prison for the killings. Four of the former officers and the civilian got life sentences, one ex-captain got 15 years and the others received lesser sentences.

The police officers served in a secret unit that attacked those suspected of opposing Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship. The unit was disbanded after the officers were implicated in the killings and they were discharged from the police force.

The case also led to the resignation of Gen. Cesar Mendoza, national police director and one of the four members of the military junta that seized power in the 1973 coup led by Pinochet.

"The State took away our parents and it's the State that today denies us justice after 30 years," Manuel Guerrero, a sociologist who shares his late father's name, told local radio.

By official count, 40,018 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons during Pinochet's rule.

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This story has been corrected to show that the three men had their throats slit and were not beheaded.