A Brazilian judge sentenced a rancher convicted of ordering the murder of US-born nun and rain-forest defender Dorothy Stang on May 15. The judge handed a 30-year sentence to Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura when he was found guilty of planning the shooting of 73-year-old Stang on Feb. 12, 2005, along a muddy stretch of road deep in the rain forest (see NotiSur, 2005-02-25). Some press outlets and human rights organizations regarded the sentence as significant in a case seen as an important test of justice in the largely lawless Amazon region, where many similar murders have gone unpunished.
Judge Raymond Moises Alves Flexa sentenced Moura to 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence, saying Moura "showed a violent personality unsuited to living in society." The judge added that the "killing was carried out in a violent and cowardly manner."
Stang's brother David, who flew to Brazil for the trial, trembled and cried after the verdict. "Justice was done," he said, adding that he now believed another rancher accused of ordering the killing may be convicted when he goes to trial later this year.
The conviction came even though three other men convicted in connection with the killing--the shooter, his accomplice, and a go-between--recanted earlier testimony that the rancher had offered them 50,000 reais (US$25,000) to kill the nun.
Moura is one of two ranchers accused of ordering Stang's killing in a conflict about land he wanted to log and develop but she was trying to protect. In court, Moura, 36, denied ordering the killing, and his lawyer mounted a lengthy anti-US tirade in his closing argument in an attempt to win freedom for his client.
Wearing a black shirt and jeans, Moura defiantly told prosecutors he learned of the killing only after the killers fled to his ranch. He said he told them to leave and did not call police because doing so would only bring him trouble.
Moura also said he fled for 45 days shortly after Stang's death because police gave him no chance to explain himself without being arrested.
Recantation by accomplices does not save Moura
All three men previously convicted in connection with the killing recanted their earlier testimony that the rancher had offered them money to kill the nun. "This thing about money isn't true. This thing about me and Bida talking isn't true," said Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, referring to Moura by his nickname, during a May 14 court session.
Batista, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison as an accomplice to gunman Rayfran Neves Sales, claimed he had been coerced into implicating Moura by two American FBI agents who traveled to Brazil shortly after the murder to monitor the police investigation.
Both Batista and Sales, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison, claimed the agents threatened to send them to the US, where they could face the death penalty, if they did not cooperate. Brazil does not have the death penalty and the most a convicted person can serve at a single stretch is 30 years.
US Embassy spokesman Richard Mei said that Brazil does not allow the extradition of its citizens to other countries for crimes committed in Brazil. "Our FBI folks are very familiar with that law," he said.
During the May 14 proceedings, lawyers for Moura accused Stang of inciting poor Brazilians to invade private property and of distributing firearms to settlers.
"The charges against her are absurd," responded Stang's brother David. "Her reputation is sterling. When she was alive, they tried to call her a gunrunner, a witch, and that's why they killed her, because they couldn't make those charges stick."
"I had no participation in this whatsoever," Moura, told the judge in his opening statement, adding that he did not even know Stang, who had been organizing poor settlers around the jungle town of Anapu for the last 23 …