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Court overturns conviction of Brazilian rancher accused in nun slaying

.- A Brazilian rancher accused of ordering the murder of American religious sister Dorothy Stang has had his conviction overturned in a retrial.  The court confirmed the conviction of a second suspect in the shooting.

Sister Dorothy Stang was shot and killed in February 2005 in the state of Para.  She was working with the rural poor and peasants who were opposed to the destruction of the rainforest.  Their opposition provoked threats from loggers, ranchers, and developers.

BBC News reports that in May 2007 Rancher Vitalmiro Vastos de Moura was initially sentenced to 30 years for ordering the shooting.  Brazil requires retrials for first offenders who are sentenced to more than 20 years. 

The court confirmed the conviction of Rayfran das Neves, who had confessed to shooting the sister.  In the retrial, Rayfran das Neves reportedly changed his story for the tenth time, claiming he was solely responsible for the murder. 

Moura had been considered the mastermind of the attack, but the jury at his retrial acquitted him by a 5-2 decision. 

Sister Dorothy’s relatives said they were stunned by the acquittal. 

“The prosecution was excellent. They presented their case very well, so we're very surprised,” said David Stang, her brother, who attended the trial.

Marguerite Hohm, Sister Dorothy’s sister, had watched the two-day trial from her home in the United States over a live internet feed.

“I saw the judge shaking hands with the defendants and I didn't understand what was going on,” she told the Associated Press.  “We’re very saddened.”

Moura’s lawyer argued the rancher had no motive to shoot the religious sister.

The conflict over natural resources in Brazil’s Amazon region has at times turned violent.  In the past 30 years, more than 1,000 people have been killed in land disputes in Brazil.  More than two-thirds of the murders have taken place in Para state.

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