Brazil to retry man suspected of murdering US nun

07 Apr 2009 21:02:40 GMT
Source: Reuters
BRASILIA, April 7 (Reuters) – A court in Brazil ordered the arrest and retrial of two men accused of murdering a U.S.-born nun more than four years ago in a land dispute in the Amazon rain forest, officials said on Tuesday.

Dorothy Stang’s death in February 2005 became a symbol of the often violent conflict for natural resources in the vast Amazon region. For more than 20 years she helped peasants threatened by loggers and ranchers and opposed the destruction of the rain forest.

Last year, a jury in the northern state of Para absolved cattle rancher Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura of charges of having ordered gunman Rayfran das Neves to kill Stang.

The verdict overturned a previous conviction sentencing Moura to 30 years in prison.

At the time, the decision caused outrage among human rights groups and members of Stang’s family. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also spoke out against the ruling.

Stang was shot six times and left lying in the mud in the town of Anapu in Para, a frontier state where loggers and ranchers have deforested huge swaths of rain forest.

Three judges voted unanimously on Tuesday to have a jury retry both Moura and Neves, the gunman who confessed to killing Stang.

The judges annulled the acquittal on grounds that the jury voted contrary to the evidence, according to a statement from the Para state judiciary.

They also said that defense lawyers had presented illegal evidence attempting to show that Neves acted alone and did not receive orders from Moura. Neves originally admitted to having been hired by Moura but later changed his story.

“Today is a big step toward reestablishing justice in this case,” said Felicio Pontes Junior, state prosecutor in the case. “We can’t be certain he’ll be condemned in a retrial but his arrest warrant shows how serious the court considers the evidence against him.”

The government has stepped up policing in the region around Anapu since the Stang murder but violent conflicts over land and natural resources continue in much of the Amazon, a vast region where the state is largely absent.

A documentary movie about Stang’s killing, narrated by actor Martin Sheen, has helped keep the case in the public limelight. The film “They Killed Sister Dorothy” was short-listed but not nominated for an Oscar. (Reporting by Raymond Colitt, editing by Chris Wilson)