The historic nature of the trial isn't lost on the nation's public, although some say too much time has passed for the process to be fair.
Even current President Otto Perez Molina, a former general who once commanded troops in the Ixil lands, has said he believes there was no genocide. Instead, some see the attacks as a kind of national defense campaign.
The Guatemalan military viewed the Ixil Mayans as rebel collaborators who threatened the government.
This view is shared by protesters with military ties who have stood outside the courthouse, holding signs demanding respect for the military and a fair trial. One demonstrator, Victor Manuel Argueta, told the state-run AGN news agency that the soldiers are "proud of what we did during the civil war."
The army in the early 1980s, he said, "was dedicated to defending the people from those who wanted to usurp power." The trial, he said, is nothing more than a "political lynching."
Declassified U.S. documents repeated the Guatemalan military's assertion that the Ixil were protecting the rebels.
But dozens of studies by anthropologists have indicated that it was much more complex than that, said Kate Doyle, director of the Guatemala Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, a leading research institute.
Some Ixil Mayans joined the guerrillas as combatants and others provided food or protection, but still others were not connected to the rebels. Some even actively opposed the rebels, she said.
Since the trial began, Rios Montt has fired his attorneys and then rehired them.
Defense attorneys have argued there's no evidence proving that Rios Montt ordered any of the abuses.
His lawyers have repeatedly and unsuccessfully demanded that the chief judge recuse herself. They say the judge violated Rios Montt's rights by pressing on with the trial when his attorneys were not prepared.
A victory, no matter the outcome?
The victims' stories are haunting, and the desire for justice strong, but the task of proving genocide isn't easy.
Prosecutors must prove the attacks targeted a specific ethnic group with the intention of destroying it, said Naomi Roht-Arriaza, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law.
To convict Rios Montt, prosecutors must also convince the judges that he was responsible.
What's at stake is less clear. The genocide charges are without precedent. If Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez are convicted, their maximum possible sentences are unknown.
In 2011, a Guatemalan court sentenced four soldiers to 6,060 years in prison each for their role in the 1982 massacre at Dos Erres, a village where 201 people were killed. Thirty years for each death. A fifth soldier was sentenced to the same last year. The unheard-of sentences were for crimes against humanity, not genocide.
Given Rios Montt's age, many assume that he will serve little, if any, time in prison if convicted.
For the moment, legal observers say the trial itself stands as a huge triumph.
A national conversation
So many of the Ixil Mayans have described their ordeals using the same phrase: They said the army treated them "like animals."
These heart-wrenching revelations, said Roht-Arriaza, allow victims a very important opportunity.
Finally, they can acknowledge in a public courtroom the horrors they experienced so many years ago.
Several witnesses said they do not seek revenge, but simply want to be "liberated" by having their stories etched in the official record.