Rio Policeman Convicted in Street Kids’ Murder
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ In a decision hailed by human rights activists, a judge Tuesday sentenced a Rio state trooper to 309 years in prison for the murders of six street children.
A gasp rose in the courtroom as Judge Jose Geraldo Antonio read the term for Marcos Vinicius Emmanuel, one of eight people indicted for the murders of eight street kids on July 23, 1993.
Antonio cited the ``cruel form″ of the killings and the ``defenseless victims″ as justifying the severe sentence for the burly 29-year-old Emmanuel, who remained impassive in the courtroom Tuesday.
After an all-night trial, the jury of four men and three women took three hours to find Emmanuel guilty on six counts of homicide, five counts of attempted homicide, one count of assault and two of assault followed by death.
Defense lawyer Sandra Bossio said she had filed for a retrial and planned to appeal some of the charges.
The result was praised by human rights activists, who had billed the trial as a referendum on Brazil’s commitment to protecting its poor and punishing police brutality.
``Clearly it’s a big step in the right direction,″ said James Cavallaro, director of Human Rights Watch-Brazil. ``The sentence certainly complies with the gravity of the crime.″
The 309-year term is largely symbolic because the maximum allowable prison time is 30 years. And Emmanuel won’t be going to jail any time soon. He was to return to the state police barracks to await a retrial, which Bossio said was routinely granted for sentences of 20 years and up.
In addition, as a first offender, Emmanuel could be eligible in two years for a sort of house arrest at the police barracks, and in seven he could be allowed out during daylight hours.
``It’s absurd, but it’s the law,″ said Humberto Espinola of the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Council.
The killings of the eight kids unsettled many Brazilians. Six were gunned down as they slept on a sidewalk in the shadow of Candelaria Cathedral in downtown Rio. Two were taken to the waterfront and executed.
Many Brazilians, fed up with rising urban crime, were openly sympathetic to the ``elimination″ of street kids, who are blamed for widespread theft. In many cases, shopkeepers in high-crime districts hire policemen to kill street kids _ an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children live on Rio’s streets.
When the trial opened Monday, Emmanuel startled the court _ and even his lawyer _ by confessing to the execution-style killing of one boy.
Prosecutors claimed it was a ploy to reduce his charges and protect other defendants, three of whom face trial May 27 and four others some time after that.
But Emmanuel’s confession dovetailed with the story of ex-policeman Nelson Cunha. Both claimed they took part in the shootings along with trooper Marcos Aurelio Alcantara, also indicted, and Mauricio Conceicao, who died in 1994.
Emmanuel said the four went to Candelaria to ``give a beating″ to boys who had thrown rocks at a police cruiser. They put three boys in the car, including Wagner dos Santos, who was shot during the ride and fainted.
They then drove to the waterfront, dumped dos Santos’ body and shot the other two.
``I fired, and then I fired again,″ Emmanuel said coolly. ``I don’t know who I shot.″
Emmanuel said the group then returned to Candelaria, looking for the leader of the group, a boy called ``Whitey.″ Emmanuel said he stayed in the car while the others did the shooting.