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Convicted nun-killer freed in the Brazilian Amazon

Convicted nun-killer freed in the Brazilian Amazon

Convicted nun-killer freed in the Brazilian Amazon
May 14, 2008

Charges against a Brazilian rancher convicted of arranging the 2005 murder of a 73-year-old American nun in the Amazon rainforest have been dismissed.

The jury’s 5-2 decision, which came after a key witness contradicted his own testimony, was the second for Moura in the killing of Dorothy Stang, a member of the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. A year ago Moura was found guilty of arranging the contract killing and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. As a first offender sentenced to more than 20 years, Moura was entitled to a retrial under Brazilian law.

Stang was working with the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic Church group that lobbies for land reform in Brazil and fights for land rights for the poor, when she was gunned down.

Dorothy Stang, 1931 – 2005

Her murder became a symbol for the battle between the rural poor and large landowners in Pará, a state on Brazil’s agricultural frontier in the Amazon where disputes over land have claimed nearly 800 lives over the past three decades. Despite the violence, until now, no landowner had received jail time for any of the killings. Many believe powerful ranchers are immune from prosecution in a region where laws are irregularly enforced and corruption is rampant. Moura’s acquittal doesn’t help the sentiment.

Paulo Vannuchi, the minister for the Brazilian government’s Special Secretariat for Human Rights, told the New York Times that the jury’s verdict “reinforces the feeling of impunity that is so widespread in our country, opening a road to more crime and violence.”

Cezar Britto, president of the Brazilian Bar Association, told CNN that Moura’s acquittal sent a “very bad” signal.

“One jury imposes the maximum sentence and the other completely absolves him,” Britto said. “That difference can, and should, be corrected on appeal.”

“Justice has again been thwarted,” added Camilla Burns, congregational leader of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in a statement. “Dorothy is our sister, so our grief is personal. We also grieve for the many unknown murder victims of Anapu.”

The same jury, which met in the Amazonian city of Belem, upheld the conviction of Rayfran das Neves Sales, one of the two gunmen who confessed to shooting Stang. Sales was sentenced to 28 years in prison without the possibility of an appeal. The second gunman, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, is serving 17 years, while Regivaldo Pereira Galvao, also accused of planning the murder, is awaiting trial.

Stang’s death has become a rallying point for land reform activists and conservationists in Pará as well as renewed calls for improved governance in the Amazon region. Following the murder, the federal government sent in thousands of troops to restore order in the state, while several large protected areas were subsequently established in the Amazon rainforest. According to the New York Times, Brazil’s Supreme Court at one point considered a motion to declare the murder a federal crime, which would have moved the case out of Pará’s courts which are said to be influenced by development interests.

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