Awaiting trial in killings-for-ratings scandal, Brazil TV crime-show host dies of heart attack

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brazil: Murder suspect who hosted TV show dies

RIO DE JANEIRO — A former TV crime show host and state legislator accused of commissioning killings to boost ratings has died, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Wallace Souza, 51, died of a heart attack, said Raquel Rojas, a spokeswoman for Hospital Bandeirantes in Sao Paulo.

Souza was the host of a popular TV crime show in the jungle city of Manaus. “Canal Livre” featured Souza in a studio railing against violence and routinely included exclusive footage from the scenes of murders, killings which police later found the host ordered.

Souza, also accused of drug trafficking, repeatedly said he was innocent, but turned himself over to police in October after he lost the immunity from prosecution he held as a state legislator.

Police said Souza — who was awaiting trial — organized a death squad to carry out the execution of other drug traffickers.

Authorities said Souza’s alleged crimes served him in two ways: They eliminated rivals and boosted ratings.

Souza became a media personality after a career as a police officer that ended in disgrace.

He started “Canal Livre” in the 1980s on a local commercial station in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s largely lawless Amazonas state. It became extremely popular among Manaus’ 1.7 million residents before going off the air late in 2008 as police intensified their investigation.

Souza parlayed his TV fame into a career in the state legislature, getting elected three times — twice with the most votes of any lawmaker in the state. At the same time, he remained a fixture on television.

The show often featured exclusive footage of arrests, crime scenes and drug seizures.

One clip showed a reporter approaching a freshly burned corpse, covering his nose with his shirt and breezily remarking that “it smells like barbecue.” Police say the victim was one of the five allegedly murdered at Souza’s behest.

In an interview in August with The Associated Press, Souza denied any role in that killing and all others. He said his reporters managed to get so quickly to crime scenes because of well-placed sources and monitoring scanners for police radio dispatches.

The show also posted workers at police stations, and at the Manaus morgue, where word often came first about newly discovered bodies.

The hospital spokeswoman Rojas said Souza had been hospitalized since March 18. She said he suffered from Budd Chiari syndrome, a rare disorder that causes clots to form in blood vessels in the liver.

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