A Brazilian judge sentenced a gunman to 27 years in prison for killing American nun and rain forest defender Dorothy Stang in a retrial on Monday, handing down the same punishment as in the first trial.
The jury of four men and three women in the Amazon state of Para voted unanimously to convict Rayfran das Neves Sales for the Feb. 12, 2005, killing, court spokeswoman Gloria Lima said.
The judge sentenced Sales to the same 27 years he received at his first trial in December 2005. Brazil grants an automatic retrial for any sentence longer than 20 years.
In his opening testimony, Sales acknowledged shooting Stang six times on a muddy road deep in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, but said he did so because the 73-year-old nun had threatened him and he feared for his life. Sales denied being offered money to kill Stang.
Stang spent 30 years defending poor settlers in violence-plagued Para. Prosecutors say two ranchers hired Sales to kill her because of a dispute over a piece of forest they wanted to clear for pasture.
Many see the trial as a test of Brazil's commitment to prosecuting the sort of land-related killings that have claimed more than 800 lives in Para State alone over the past three decades. Only a handful of killers have ever have been convicted.
During the trial, prosecutor Edson Cardoso de Souza told the official government news agency that "nobody with even average intelligence" would believe Sales felt threatened by the elderly nun. Souza had asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 30 years.
Sales' lawyer Cesar Ramos told Agenica Brasil that his client was never paid for the killing and said, "When she threatened him ... he lost his emotional balance."
At his first trial, Sales said he shot Stang after he mistook the Bible she was taking out of her bag for a gun.
Sales' testimony seemed to seek clearing Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, who was convicted in May of ordering Stang's killing and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Moura's automatic retrial is set for tomorrow.
Two accomplices convicted in the killing received sentences of less than 20 years and do not get retrials.
Another rancher, Regivaldo Galvao has also been accused of ordering Stang's killing but remains free on bail with no trial date set.
Prosecutors allege Moura and Galvao offered Sales and his accomplice Clodoaldo Carlos Batista US$25,000 for the killing.
Stang, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, has evoked comparisons to Chico Mendes, the rain forest defender who was killed in 1988 in the western Amazon state of Acre.
David Stang, the victim's 70-year-old brother, flew in from Colorado to attend the trial.
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