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Brazil Man Guilty in Killing of U.S. Missionary

A Brazilian rancher was convicted Tuesday of ordering the killing of American nun and rain forest defender Dorothy Stang in a case seen an important test of justice in the largely lawless Amazon regio
( [email protected] ) May 16, 2007 09:17 PM EDT

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

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was found guilty of masterminding the shooting of 73-year-old Stang on Feb. 12, 2005, along a muddy stretch of road deep in the rain forest.

Judge Raymond Moises Alves Flexa sentenced Moura to 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence, in a case seen as a test of whether the government could crack down on lawlessness in the Amazon.

Moura "showed a violent personality unsuited to living in society," the judge said, adding that the "killing was carried out in violent and cowardly manner."

Stang's brother David, who flew to Brazil for the trial, trembled and cried after the verdict.

"Justice was done," he said, adding that he now believed another rancher accused of ordering the killing may be convicted when he goes to trial later this year.

The conviction came even though three other men convicted in connection with the killing — a gunman, his accomplice and a go-between — recanted earlier testimony that the rancher had offered them 50,000 reals (US$25,000; euro18,400) to kill the nun.

Moura is one of two ranchers accused of ordering Stang's killing in a conflict over land he wanted to log and develop but she wasn't trying to protect.

Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, helped build schools and was among the activists who have tried to defend the rights of impoverished and often exploited farmers drawn to the Amazon region. She also attempted to halt the rampant jungle clearing by loggers and ranchers that has already ripped away some 20 percent of the forest cover.

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

Shortly after Stang's killing, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered the army into the region, suspended logging permits, and ordered large swathes of rain forest off-limits to development.

Moura in court denied ordering the killing, and his lawyer mounted a lengthy anti-American tirade in his closing argument in an attempt to win freedom for his client.

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