Brazilian Rancher Guilty in Nun's Death

Associated Press
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

BELEM, Brazil, May 15 -- A Brazilian rancher was convicted Tuesday of ordering the killing of an American nun and rain forest defender in a case seen as an important test of justice in the largely lawless Amazon region. A judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura "showed a violent personality unsuited to living in society," the judge said in sentencing him to the maximum penalty for the 2005 slaying of 73-year-old Dorothy Stang.

The killing was carried out in a "violent and cowardly manner," said Judge Raymond Moises Alves Flexa.

Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, helped build schools and was among the activists who worked to defend the rights of impoverished and exploited peasants in the Amazon region. She also attempted to halt the rampant jungle clearing by loggers and ranchers that has destroyed about 20 percent of the natural vegetation in Brazil's Amazon region.

Tuesday's verdict came after three other men convicted in the killing -- a gunman, his accomplice and a go-between -- recanted earlier testimony that Moura had offered them $25,000 to kill Stang in a conflict over land he wanted to develop.

Human rights defenders said the trial was a key measure of whether the powerful masterminds behind land-related killings could be held accountable in the Amazon state of Para. Of nearly 800 such killings during the past 30 years, only four masterminds have been convicted and none is behind bars.

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