Killer of US nun in Brazil renounces new trial

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 11:28 AM

The gunman sentenced to 27 years for killing U.S. nun and Amazon rain forest activist Dorothy Stang has waived his right to a new trial, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Just as a new trial was opening for Rayfran das Neves Sales in the northern city of Belem, his attorney told a judge that Sales no longer wanted to contest his original 2005 conviction, said Para state prosecutor Edson Souza.

No one answered the telephone at the office of Sales' lawyer Thursday.

The state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported that public defender Marilda Cantal submitted a document to the court saying that "the defendant does not want to undergo the vexing situation of a jury trial" and "accepts the 2005 sentence."

Stang spent three decades working to preserve the rain forest and defending the rights of poor settlers who confronted ranchers trying to obtain their lands in the Amazon's wild frontier.

In addition to Sales, four other men have been charged in connection with her murder. Two were convicted as accomplices and given 17-year-sentences in 2005.

Two other defendants are still awaiting trial: ranchers Vitalmiro Moura and Regivaldo Galvao, whom prosecutors accuse of ordering Stang's murder because she was blocking them from obtaining a parcel of land. Both remain free.

Moura is expected to face trial in state courts in the first half of 2010, Souza said. Galvao is awaiting federal trial on charges that earlier this year, he tried to fraudulently obtain the same tract of land Stang died defending, Souza said.

Human rights activists see the cases as a vital test of Brazil's judicial system and its ability to take on rich, powerful ranchers who largely operate with impunity in the sparsely populated Amazon.

In the past two decades in Brazil, more than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and others have been killed in disputes over preserving land, mostly in the Amazon, according to the watchdog group Catholic Land Pastoral, or CPT.

Of those killings, fewer than 100 cases have gone to court. About 80 defendants have been convicted _ all hired guns for ranchers and loggers seeking to remove obstacles to expanding their lands, prosecutors and CPT officials say.

While Sales' original conviction stands, he could still benefit from Brazil's work-release program, which lets prisoners go free during the day and return behind bars at night, said Souza. A judge would still have to approve Sales for the program.