Brazil rancher sentenced for ordering killing of U.S.-born nun

U.S.-born nun Dorothy Stang in Belem, northern Brazil, on Feb. 12, 2004.
U.S.-born nun Dorothy Stang in Belem, northern Brazil, on Feb. 12, 2004.
(Carlos Silva / Associated Press)

SAO PAULO -- A Brazilian rancher has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the killing of U.S.-born nun and Amazon environmental activist Dorothy Stang in 2005.

It was the fourth time that Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was tried in Brazil’s often slow-moving legal system, and his lawyers told local news media that they intended to appeal Thursday’s conviction.

Prosecutors accused Bastos of paying $23,000 to a hired gunman to kill Stang in the northern jungle state of Para, where violent conflicts between landowners and activists are common. They said Bastos owned part of a piece of land where Stang hoped to create a settlement for impoverished rural workers.

Another rancher, Regivaldo Galvao, also was convicted of ordering the slaying and given a 30-year sentence. He was released last year pending the outcome of his appeal.


Rayfran das Neves Sales, the confessed gunman, is under house arrest after serving less than nine years of a 27-year sentence. Amair Feijoli, who was convicted of acting as an intermediary between the men, is serving an 18-year sentence. Another suspect remains at large.

Stang, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, spent more than 30 years in Brazil working to preserve the Amazon rainforest and promote the rights of workers.

When she was shot six times at close range in February 2005, the incident brought worldwide attention to violent clashes in the remote region of Brazil, where illegal deforestation, slave-like working conditions and conflicts resolved by pistoleiros, or hired gunmen, persist.

In parts of the Amazon jungle, where agriculture can be extremely profitable, there are plots of land so vast and so far removed from urban settlements that powerful ranchers can run them like personal fiefdoms, enforcing their own justice with relative impunity under a system that has changed little since colonial times.


According to figures supplied Friday by the Pastoral Land Commission, the Roman Catholic Church organization with which Stang worked, more than 1,645 people have been killed since 1985 in conflicts related to land and workers rights in the Amazon. In the vast majority of cases, there have been no convictions.

Just 22 people have been sentenced for ordering such killings, and none are currently in prison, the group said.


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