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Rancher gets 30 years in death of US nun

Associated Press / April 14, 2010

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RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian rancher was sentenced to 30 years for ordering the murder of US nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang, making him the only “mastermind’’ behind any of the hundreds of activists killed in the past two decades currently in jail.

After 15 hours of deliberation, jurors in the jungle city of Belem found late Monday that Vitalmiro Moura engineered the killing of Stang, 73, in 2005 because she blocked him and another rancher from taking over land the government gave to farmers. Moura denied any involvement in the killing and said he didn’t know the victim.

The case was viewed as a test of Brazil’s ability to battle the nearly absolute impunity that reigns in the Amazon, whether it be the murder of activists or illegal deforestation.

More than 1,200 people have been killed in the past two decades in land conflicts across Brazil, mostly in the Amazon, according to Catholic Land Pastoral, a watchdog group.

Yet while 80 gunmen — who were paid by powerful ranchers to kill activists, landless farmers, and others defending the rights of the poor — are behind bars, none of the so-called masterminds of the crimes, aside from Moura, is in jail, Catholic Land Pastoral said.

The sentence was celebrated by Stang’s relatives, supporters, and activists, who had camped and prayed outside the court during the deliberations.

“Justice has been made. My sister would be very happy,’’ David Stang said from Belem. “She believed in the Brazilian judicial system.’’

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

Moura was previously convicted of Stang’s murder and then acquitted in an automatic retrial. That decision was overturned last year on a technicality.