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Brazil Jury Reverses Conviction in Killings of Street Children

From Times Wire Services

A former police officer convicted of murder in a shooting rampage in which eight street children died was declared innocent Thursday at his retrial.

Nelson Oliveira dos Santos Cunha, 29, was sentenced in November to 261 years in jail on eight charges of murder and one of attempted murder in the 1993 incident. Under Brazilian law, anyone sentenced to more than 20 years in jail for a crime has the automatic right to a retrial.

“This decision shames our society,” said Rio Dist. Atty. Jose Muinos Pinheiro. He said prosecutors may request a third trial, which is allowed in Brazil.

After all-night proceedings, the seven-member Rio de Janeiro state court jury voted 4-3 to acquit him on all eight counts of murder, a court official said. His conviction for attempted murder stands, however, and he will remain in prison to serve an 18-year sentence for that crime.

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Six youths were killed when men opened fire indiscriminately on about 70 children playing or sleeping on the steps of the Candelaria Church in downtown Rio early on July 23, 1993. Two others were killed earlier and left nearby.

Survivors--including Wagner dos Santos, who was shot and left for dead--identified the killers as Rio de Janeiro state police officers.

Cunha admitted involvement in the shootings but insisted that he did not kill anyone. He said he shot Dos Santos when the car hit a pothole and his gun went off accidentally.


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