Brazil: Rancher found guilty in killing of US nun, Amazon defender Dorothy Stang

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Friday, April 30, 2010

Brazil: Rancher found guilty in killing of US nun

RIO DE JANEIRO — A jury convicted a Brazilian rancher early Saturday of orchestrating the murder of U.S. nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang.

Regivaldo Galvao - the last of five defendants to stand trial in the case - was sentenced to 30 years in prison, said Telma Lima, a spokeswoman with the federal court in the jungle city of Belem where the trial was held.

The verdict came two weeks after another rancher, Vitalmiro Moura, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of collaborating with Galvao.

Prosecutors say the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old Stang because she blocked their stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers supported by the nun.

The trials were seen as a litmus test for Brazil’s ability to begin to end the lawlessness that reigns in the Amazon region - an area the size of the United States west of the Mississippi River. The government has little presence in the area, and illegal activities like deforestation and illegal mining are rampant.

According to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a watchdog group that tracks rural violence in Brazil, more than 1,500 activists, small farmers, judges and others have been killed across Brazil the past 25 years - usually by gunmen paid by powerful ranchers with land claims at stake.

“The vast majority of these crimes are met with absolute impunity by the legal system,” said Antonio Canuto, an official with the group. “Today’s trial is a nearly singular fact - and it is of supreme importance to set a precedent to stop the violence.”

Canuto said Catholic Land Pastoral delivered a report to Brazil’s Justice Ministry on Thursday showing that 1,546 people were murdered in land conflicts over the last 25 years.

Of those, only 85 cases were judged, according to the report. A total of 20 “masterminds” of the crimes were found guilty, but only Moura and Galvao are behind bars - the rest either escaped from prison or are free on appeals.

Canuto said 79 gunmen involved in the killings are in prison.

In addition to Galvao and Moura, three other men were tried in Stang’s case:

-Rayfran das Neves Sales, who confessed to shooting Stang six times on a muddy Amazon road, is serving a 28-year sentence.

-Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, an accomplice of Sales, is serving out a 17-year sentence in Brazil’s “semi-open” prison system, meaning he can work outside but must sleep in jail.

-Amair Feijoli da Cunha was sentenced to 18 years in prison for acting as a middleman between the ranchers and Sales. He is also in the “semi-open” system.

Galvao had never stood trial in the case before Friday, managing to delay prosecution by legal maneuvers.

Moura was first convicted in 2007, then acquitted during an automatic retrial in 2008. The acquittal was overturned on a technicality last year and a new trial ordered.

Stang, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a naturalized Brazilian citizen, worked for three decades to preserve the rain forest and defend the land rights of poor settlers.

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