Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Two `nun killers' charged

HIRED TO KILL The two suspected hitmen and the go-between who hired them have been charged with conspiracy to murder


A second suspect sought in the murder of a US-born nun who was an advocate for landless farmers was arrested late Sunday in the Brazilian state of Para, police said.

Rayfran das Neves Sales was captured about 20km from the town of Anapu after local residents recognized him from a photograph posted by police, police superindendent Pedro Monteiro told reporters.

Rayfran is the second suspect in the murder of Dorothy Stang, a 74-year-old missionary who spent decades working with the poor in Para state, arrested by Brazilian police.

Amair Feijole da Cunha, known by the nickname Tato, surrendered to authorities in the town of Altamira Saturday.

Tato was sought as a suspected go-between linking rancher Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, "Bida," who was suspected of paying for a hit, and two men suspected of carrying out the crime, Eduardo and Rayfran das Neves Sales.

The hit men earned US$19,000 dollars in cash for the murder, according to the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo.

The man accused of hiring two gunmen to kill Stang was charged Sunday with conspiracy to murder, authorities said.

Amair Freijoli da Cunha, known as Tato, was charged after nearly three and a half hours of interrogation by Para state police in Altamira, police said.

Cunha turned himself in Saturday after arrest warrants were issued for him and three other suspects, the two purported gunmen and a rancher accused of ordering the killing of Stang.

Cunha, who was accompanied by a lawyer, denied any involvement in the crime, but police said he gave too many contradictory statements and is clearly connected with the other suspects. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Police investigator Waldir Freire said Cunha ``was lying the whole time,'' the official Agencia Brasil news agency said.

Also Sunday, witnesses told police that Cunha and Stang had an altercation a day before she was shot six times at the Boa Esperanca settlement near the rural town of Anapu, about 2,100km north of Rio de Janeiro.

Police said Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, wanted Cunha to leave the settlement, where she helped some 400 families survive in the jungle.

Cunha allegedly hired the gunmen on behalf of Vitamiro Goncalves Moura, a rancher known as Bida who is accused of ordering the killing.

Moura and the two gunmen were still at large, police said. State and federal officers and jungle troops in helicopters and pickup trucks were hunting for them in the largely lawless Amazon region where Stang was killed. After Stang's murder Feb. 12, the government sent 2,000 troops to the northern state in an effort to avert more violence.

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