By JULIANA BARBASSA
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)
A rancher convicted of masterminding the murder of a U.S. nun who was also an environmental activist will have to stay in jail while his case is appealed, Brazil’s top court ruled. The Supreme Court denied a request for release from Vitalmiro Moura, one of the men found guilty of ordering the murder of 73-year-old Dorothy Stang in 2005. The court issued the ruling June 14, but the decision was not announced in a news release until Monday. Stang was shot down in the Amazonian state of Para after working for 30 years to protect the rain forest and defend poor settlers’ land rights. Moura is the only person currently in prison for ordering the killing of an activist anywhere in the Amazon and was sentenced to 30 years in 2007. Another rancher also convicted of ordering Stang’s murder, Regivaldo Galvao, is free pending an appeal.During the trial, prosecutors argued the two ranchers hired gunmen for $25,000 to kill Stang after she blocked them from appropriating land the government had given to poor farmers. The gunman, Rayfran das Neves Sales, is serving a 28-year sentence. He confessed he shot Stang six times on a muddy Amazon road. Two accomplices, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista and Amair Feijoli da Cunha, are serving 17 and 18 years, respectively, in an arrangement that allows them to work outside as long as they sleep in prison.
The Brazilian Amazon, an environmentally sensitive area the size of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, is rife with violence connected to illegal logging, mining and land grabs. The Catholic Land Pastoral monitors the threats made by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests of illicit activity and has found that more than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in violence connected to land rights and logging in the past two decades. Five killings likely connected to the conflicts have taken place in the past month and a half.