Conservation news

Justice delayed: Dorothy Stang’s killer appeals

Next Tuesday, four Brazilian judges will hear an appeal from a rancher convicted of organizing the 2005 murder of Dorothy Stang, an elderly American nun who worked with small farmers in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará.



The rancher, Regivaldo Galvão, is expected to claim he had nothing to do with the murder. While Galvão did not pull the trigger, he was convicted by a jury in 2010 of ordering and organizing Sister Dorothy’s assassination.



Editor’s note: Dorothy Stang, an American nun who spent more than 30 years fighting for land rights for poor settlers in the Amazon, was murdered by a contract killer in February 2005 in the Brazilian state of Para. Stang, 73, was shot six times with a revolver as she read from the Bible.



Stang, a member of the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, 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.

Stang’s murder was a tipping point in the heated battle between the rural poor and large landowners in the state of Para. The federal government responded to her killing by sending several thousand armed troops into the state. Later Brazil established several protected areas in contested forests and proposed a land-use permit system for selling concession to loggers who agreed to set side land for settlers and indigenous groups.

In her quest to bring environmental sustainability and social justice to small farmers along the Transamazonian Highway, Sister Dorothy uncovered Regivaldo Galvão’s illicit activities, according to published accounts. Galvão held illegal titles to several plots of land, received undue benefits from the government agency SUDAM, and allegedly used slave labor (still present in the Amazon) to clear and burn the rainforest.



Dorothy Stang was 73 when Vitalmiro Bida and Amair Tato murdered her on February 12, 2005. After five years of proceedings, a jury convicted Regivaldo Galvão of homicide on May 1, 2010. Galvão allegedly paid the two gunmen, now convicted, to “put an end to that woman,”—and they murdered Dorothy Stang in cold blood. Galvão attempted to cover up his association with the gunmen and their two partners, denying any involvement with Stang’s murder. But the court found Galvão guilty of orchestrating and financing the assassination of an elderly American nun. After presenting false documents to Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court in 2006, Galvão was also prosecuted for falsifying documents, embezzlement, and swindling public lands.



Stang’s family and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur hope the May 1 decision will stand, but fear the four judges hearing the appeal behind closed doors will annul the 2010 trial. If this is the case, there are two possibilities. Should there be another public trial, Galvão may receive a second conviction. However, Galvão would likely appeal to Brazil’s Supreme Court—and receive another closed trial. The trial, originally set for August 30, has already been postponed.







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