Brazilian rancher convicted in killing of U.S.-born nun

Dorothy Stang, a native of Ohio, worked to preserve the rain forest and defend land rights.
Dorothy Stang, a native of Ohio, worked to preserve the rain forest and defend land rights. (2004 Associated Press File Photo)
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By Bradley Brooks
Sunday, May 2, 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A jury convicted a Brazilian rancher Saturday of orchestrating the slaying of U.S.-born nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang in 2005.

Regivaldo Galvao -- the last of five defendants to stand trial in the case -- was sentenced to 30 years in prison, said Telma Lima, a spokeswoman for the federal court in Belem, the jungle city where the trial was held.

The verdict came two weeks after another rancher, Vitalmiro Moura, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of collaborating with Galvao.

Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers.

The trials were seen as a test of Brazil's ability to tackle the lawlessness that reigns in the Amazon region -- an area the size of the United States west of the Mississippi River. The government has little presence in the area, and activities such as illegal deforestation and mining are rampant.

According to the reform group Catholic Land Pastoral, which tracks rural violence in Brazil, more than 1,500 activists, small farmers, judges and others have been killed across the country during the past 25 years -- usually by gunmen paid by powerful ranchers with land claims at stake.

"The vast majority of these crimes are met with absolute impunity by the legal system," said Antonio Canuto, an official with the group. "Today's trial is a nearly singular fact -- and it is of supreme importance to set a precedent to stop the violence." Canuto said that Catholic Land Pastoral delivered a report to Brazil's Justice Ministry on Thursday showing that 1,546 people have been killed in land conflicts during the past 25 years.

Of those, only 85 cases were judged, according to the report. A total of 20 were found guilty of masterminding the crimes, but only Moura and Galvao are behind bars -- the rest either escaped from prison or are free on appeals.

In addition to Galvao and Moura, three other men were tried in Stang's case. Rayfran das Neves Sales, who confessed to shooting Stang six times on a muddy Amazon road, is serving a 28-year sentence. Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, an accomplice of Sales, is serving out a 17-year sentence in Brazil's "semi-open" prison system, meaning he can work outside but must sleep in jail. Amair Feijoli da Cunha was sentenced to 18 years in prison for acting as a middleman between the ranchers and Sales. He is also in the "semi-open" system.

Moura was first convicted in 2007, but he was acquitted during an automatic retrial in 2008. The acquittal was overturned on a technicality last year and a new trial ordered.

Stang, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a naturalized Brazilian citizen, worked for three decades to preserve the rain forest and defend the land rights of poor settlers.

-- Associated Press

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