Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura Convicted (Again) in Dorothy Stang's Murder

Excellent news:

A jury in the Brazilian city of Belém has sentenced a rancher to 30 years in prison for the murder of an American-born nun, news agencies reported.

The rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, was convicted of ordering the murder in 2005 of Sister Dorothy Stang, from Dayton, Ohio, a longtime organizer of rural settlers and the poor in their efforts to protect their land from seizures by cattle ranchers and timber merchants.

Globo News, in Sao Paulo, reported Tuesday that the jury reached its verdict late Monday night after 15 hours of deliberations. The trial was the second appeal in the case, and the decision on Monday upheld the original conviction from 2007.

After being found guilty in 2007, Bastos de Moura, or "Bita," was acquitted in a second trial in 2008 (and for those wondering about double jeopardy, in Brazil, first-time convicts sentenced to more than 20 years are automatically given a re-trial). The third Trial took place after the state of Para's top court ruled that video evidence that Bita's defense used in the second trial was inadmissable, effectively rendering this third trial his "second" after Brazil's Supreme Court upheld the Para court's ruling. Now, it appears that Moura will actually serve time for contracting the murder of Dorothy Stang.

The conviction itself is huge, as it is one of the first times that a powerful rancher has been found guilty for his role in the murder of a land rights activist. Of course, Para sees many such murders, including just last week, and it is often commonly accepted that the wealthy landowners are often behind those murders but never see trial due to their power in the region. Certainly, Stang's case is particularly high-profile, but it is still extremely encouraging to see at least one landowner has been punished for his deeds, offering tentative hope that perhaps ranchers involved in future contracted murders will also be punished within the Brazilian courts (or at least deterred from hiring killers in the wake of Bita's sentencing). As Rebecca Spires put it, the only real chance at ending the murders in the Amazon is to go after the contractors; otherwise, the killings will most likely never cease. This is a good step in that direction, and if nothing else, Stang's case alone is an encouraging case of elites in Para not being protected by their money or status.