Accused mastermind acquitted in murder of Amazon defender

A Brazilian court sentenced the accused killer of American missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, to 28 years yesterday—but acquitted rancher Vitalmiro Moura, known as “Bida,” who was accused of having ordered the killing. Rayfran das Neves Sales confessed to the 2005 shooting of Stang at Anapu, in the Amazonian state of Pará. Stang had been campaigning on behalf of the landless rural farm-workers and against the pillaging of the forest by illegal cattle ranches.

The ruling, issued by a Belém court May 5 has sparked wide indignation. A jury voted 5-2 to acquit the rancher, who had been named in previous trials by the killer as the person who commissioned the murder. Moura allegedly provided Neves Sales with the gun that killed Stang. He was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison, but in the retrial, Sales retracted his previous testimony, denying any involvement of the land-owner and claiming he had acted on his own, because he “felt threatened by the nun.” Local judicial sources said Sales, who was a low-paid farmhand, changed his testimony because Sales was probably paying his legal fees.

Monsignor Erwin Krautler, Bishop of Xingu, said: “Anyone who takes a stand alongside the marginalized in the Amazon automatically becomes an enemy of the loggers and diamond miners. Our martyr Dorothy Stang was killed because she believed in a different dream for the Amazon, because she defended sustainable development projects and fought for the settlement of simple people in need of farm land to live. She rejected the idea of the infinite growth of ranches that to expand don’t accept any contrary voices”. (MISNA, May 9)

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